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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 17:50 GMT
Eyewitness: 'I was dragged to torture camp'
"Robert" will not use his real name for fear of reprisals
Robert is a member of Zimbabwe's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). This is his account of how he was taken from his home in rural Chikwaka, east of the capital, Harare, to a camp run by pro-government militias, and how he escaped.

I have beer to thank for my survival.

The minute I saw that my abductors were totally drunk, I made my escape and ran 17 kilometres.

It all started at 0200 on 14 February when I heard heavy knocking on my door. Angered by the noise I shouted to find out who it was.

As soon as I opened the door, they started attacking me with sticks and fists. They said they would kill me for supporting the MDC.

I was then dragged to a torture camp near Bosha business centre where, for 16 days, I was kept tied to a railway sleeper.

Forced to lie

When I got to the camp, I found four others who had been convicted of the same crime by our abductors: supporting the opposition.

I discovered that there are eight other such torture camps being run by militias in the area

They asked me to chant the slogan. So I shouted the ruling party slogan and denounced Morgan Tsvangirai.

But they said I should do the MDC slogan.

They were beating me with chains, sticks and anything they could get hold of, and said they would beat me until I confessed to supporting the MDC.

I denounced Morgan Tsvangirai so much that they were pleased with me and stopped beating me for a while.

I told them that I had been given 10,000 Zimbabwe dollars (about $188) to support the MDC. I knew this is what they wanted to hear so I had to lie.

Other camps

My stay at the camp was hell.

We were kept in what looks like an old disused hall.

We would wake up at 0500 and asked to shout Zanu-PF slogans and toyi-toyi (jump up and down).

Sometimes they would beat us and force us to lie on the ground.

During my stay I discovered that there are eight other such torture camps being run by militias in the area.

Militia tactics

I heard that all those who have confessed to supporting the opposition have been asked to say they cannot read or write when they go to the polling station.

It was a nightmare - it still shakes me whenever I think about it

Some of the militias will then help them to vote. They have been threatened with death if they go and vote on their own.

Both young men and women take part in the beatings.

I found out they have MDC T-shirts. They wear them so that they can discover who supports the opposition before abducting them.

For 16 days I was kept tied up and was only set free when I wanted to relieve myself.

It was a nightmare - it still shakes me whenever I think about it.

While at the camp, I saw some local business people arriving with gifts and drinks.

They too fear the militias, though some of them seem to support what they do.


I had almost lost hope of surviving.

But on Saturday, I saw two trucks deliver beer and food.

I heard shouting but I just ran as fast as my legs could carry me.

The militants drank, danced and slept until the next morning. Then they went on drinking.

They drank so much that some of them could barely walk.

I realised that the two women who had been assigned to guard me were totally drunk - so I tried my luck.

I said I wanted to relieve myself. They refused at first but later agreed and untied me.

I crept under the fence - there would be no better chance.

I took to my heels and made my escape. I heard shouting but I just ran as fast as my legs could carry me.

Scared to vote

I ran for 17 km and got to a farm. I lied and said I was part of a lobola (dowry) delegation that had come to marry in the area but that I got left behind after a drinking spree.

Luckily, one of the workers believed me and gave me a place to sleep.

I woke up very early and walked for another 23 km or so before I got to Guwa village.

I could no longer walk - I was hungry and tired. I had spent almost two days on the road.

I managed to get a lift into Harare and arrived at the MDC offices on Monday.

But I am worried about my wife and two children. I have not seen them since 14 February.

I am still very afraid after the whole ordeal. I never believed such things could happen.

Now I am not sure if I will be able to go and vote, because I'm scared of going back to my communal area.

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See also:

04 Mar 02 | UK Politics
UK 'disappointed' on Zimbabwe
28 Feb 02 | Africa
Mugabe rival sues over video
06 Feb 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe's climate of fear
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