Page last updated at 07:13 GMT, Tuesday, 9 June 2009 08:13 UK

Zimbabwe: Still living in fear

By Mike Thomson
BBC News, Harare

A Zimbabwean mother and daughter are still too afraid to return home after being abducted and repeatedly raped by militiamen from President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party a year ago.

Joyce, not her real name, quietly tells me how she and two of her daughters were assaulted over a week-long period.

She told her attackers that the youngest of her two children was just 13, but even that did not save the girl.

Her husband, who was helping to organise MDC supporters to vote, initially managed to escape.

But a few days later he was caught, and suffered appalling burns after a naked flame was applied to his genitals.

Victims of violence
The psychological scars of this mother and daughter will not heal quickly

Joyce and her 19-year-old daughter are staying in a large, bare-walled safe house in the capital, Harare, along with other victims of last year's political violence.

Most have recovered - physically - from the bruises, broken bones and gunshot wounds they suffered.

But their psychological wounds will take a lot longer to heal.

When the long-standing opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was sworn in as Zimbabwe's prime minister in a power-sharing government earlier this year, hopes were high that the devastated country's nightmare was nearing an end.

While it was widely expected to take months, if not years, for the ruined economy to recover, it was at least thought that political violence and the fear of it were a thing of the past.

Yet, it seems, nothing could be further from the truth.


Tapfuma, 20, sits on the other side of the room from Joyce and her daughter.

He and his mother were beaten with sticks by a Zanu-PF mob that invaded their home in the early hours of the morning.

I would be killed, even torn to pieces. I definitely believe that

"They were thrashing me with big sticks on my legs and hands. I was just begging for mercy. I even called to God. When they left we were both unconscious. My mum was just lying there," he says.

His mother can no longer use her hands. When I ask him why he does not go home now that the new unity government is in power, he replies:

"Zanu-PF, the people who did this, are still out there. They are still wearing their T-shirts."

Later that day, a middle-aged woman is shown into the room, carrying a large book.

It contains the names of people tortured, killed, raped or maimed by Zanu-PF mobs last year.

The woman - Patience - has compiled the list covertly over recent months, with the help of mortuary officials, hospital staff and court clerks.

I ask her what would happen if she took this list to the police or to the Ministry of Justice and demanded that those responsible be prosecuted.

She puts the book down, turns and looks straight me in the eye before saying:

"I would be killed, even torn to pieces. I definitely believe that."

She goes on to tell me that she has been warned recently that Zanu-PF hardliners have heard about the list she is making, and are now trying to find her.

'Fresh violence'

She believes they are desperate to destroy evidence like this, which - she says - could put them in court should President Mugabe eventually be forced from government.

Sekai Holland
Every day, different members of the MDC are getting phone calls from people who give the names of people who are going to be assassinated
Sekai Holland
Minister of State for National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration

Patience says they are currently planning fresh violence to help ensure that does not happen.

"Zanu-PF are writing the names of all the leaders of the MDC. These are the names of the leaders in the north, and they have already started in our area."

Patience says the names were handed to state intelligence agents.

I took these claims to the MDC's Sekai Holland, Minister of State for National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration, herself the victim of a beating by Zanu-PF militia that left her in hospital for weeks.

The minister says she is not in the least surprised by what I have told her.

"Every day, different members of the MDC are getting phone calls from people who give the names of people who are going to be assassinated," she says.

"I think there is a department which meets to plan the survival of Zanu-PF as a ruling party. We are told they do have a list of people they will kill."

Ms Holland tells me she expects the new round of violence to start at the next elections, which could come in just 18 months.

'No-one feels safe'

She says the government still has more than 30,000 paid militia working inside the civil service that can be used, when required, by Zanu-PF ministers.

John Mukumbe
If the inclusive government does not work we are going very close to Somalia
John Makumbe, University of Zimbabwe

She goes on to tell me: "No-one feels safe in Zimbabwe. No-one, and I mean no-one. We have not reached a ceasefire. We are still at the point where people have their guns cocked."

Back at the Harare safe house, Joyce warns of her fears for the future:

"I am very worried, because in my mind I think they will come back again. They warned us that they would do this at the next elections. I'm so frightened about those elections. That is the time when the violence is going to start all over again."

For now, many continue to hope that the unity government will succeed in bringing Zimbabwe back from the brink by winning new international investment and marginalising the men of violence.

But, if it fails, the situation is set to get even worse, according to Harare University Professor of Politics, John Makumbe.

"If the inclusive government does not work we are going very close to Somalia. We are going into the scorched earth policy. That is what Mugabe is going to do. Destroy everything in the name of ideology, destroy everyone."

You can hear Mike Thomson's special reports from Zimbabwe on the Today Programme throughout the week.

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