[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 27 February, 2004, 22:14 GMT
Zimbabwe's torture training camps

By Hilary Andersson
BBC Africa correspondent

President Robert Mugabe's government has set up secret camps across the country in which thousands of youths are taught how to torture and kill, the BBC has learned.

Debbie was raped in a Zimbabwean youth camp
The Zimbabwean government says the camps are job training centres, but those who have escaped say they are part of a brutal plan to keep Mugabe in power.

Former recruits to the camps have spoken to the BBC's Panorama programme about a horrific training programme that breaks young teenagers down before encouraging them to commit atrocities.

Members of the youth militia are warned never to tell of their experiences inside the camps, and many refuse to be identified when talking about their experiences.

However one girl, Debbie, claims she was kidnapped and forced into a camp - where she was raped on her very first night.

I was raped again at night and they said no-one can complain because it's part of training

In accounts gathered by BBC Panorama from dozens of youths, it appears that for many of them the training in the camps begins with rape.

Debbie said she was raped three times on the first night, but claimed that the abuse didn't stop then.

She told the programme: "I was raped again at night and they said no-one can complain because its part of training."

She claims she used to share a blanket with an 11-year-old girl. The little girl was also raped night after night.


President Mugabe has visited the camps. Ministry insiders have told Panorama that his government knows what goes on inside them.

Daniel was taught to torture people
Food is often scarce. Youths are beaten until they succumb to orders. They are taught that their mission is to keep President Mugabe in power.

Panorama has also learned that some of the recruits are taught to torture his opponents.

Daniel was plied with alcohol and drugs, and learned how to electrocute his victims.

He said: "I would just touch, krr, krr - tell us information."

Asked if he thought it was OK to torture people, he added that it was "nice", because "your mind is disturbed".


During covert filming inside Zimbabwe, Panorama also spoke to a camp commander who told the programme that youths in his camp had been sent to kill opponents of President Mugabe.

He said: "In the area I am covering I heard of two. My superiors instructed that the people must be eliminated."

What is more frightening is that President Mugabe now wants every Zimbabwean youth to undergo training. We have been told they will be used to intimidate political opponents in next year's elections.

The commander added: "These guys are going to be used by the ruling party to keep the opposition out of power."

We put these allegations to Zimbabwe's government, but so far it has refused to respond.

Panorama: Secrets of the Camps was broadcast on BBC One on Sunday, 29 February 2004 at 2215 GMT

The BBC's Hilary Andersson
"For almost a quarter of a century Robert Mugabe has been prepared to use violence to hold on to power"

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific