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Correspondent Sunday, 3 March, 2002, 20:01 GMT
Zimbabwe burning
President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe banned foreign journalists in Zimbabwe
Ten mass graves lie in the heart of an abandoned army camp - hard evidence of what happens to people who fall foul of Robert Mugabe. Despite a ban on the BBC reporting, John Sweeney uncovers Zimbabwe's culture of impunity for those who today torture and kill for Mugabe.

Click here for transcripts

Outside, a car pulls up, a door slams. Silence. Everyone goes still. There are six of us in the room, three black, three white.

Michael, our eyewitness, a torture victim, who helped bury some of the 300 bodies he saw. His brother - also tortured. The translator whose father has been kidnapped and is almost certainly dead. The owner of the house whose lover has been framed by the police for something he did not do. And the two of us from the banned BBC.

All six would make a pretty catch for the Central Intelligence Organisation, the CIO. Robert Mugabe would be delighted.

It is a false alarm, the car belongs to a neighbour returning from shopping.

The terror camps

Michael continues his story in Ndebele. "I buried them in the toilet pits," he said. Go on.

When they realised that one man was nearly dying they would order us, the other detainees, to bury that one ... even when he was still alive


"Some people were beaten even if they did not have any reason to beat you up. When they realised that one man was nearly dying they would order us, the other detainees, to bury that one. We would throw him in a pit even when he was still alive."

Michael worked very hard at digging the holes in the ground for the toilet pits and dumping in the bodies, lest they kill him too.

All of that happened long ago, in 1984, at Bhalagwe Camp, the base for the Fifth Brigade, trained by the North Koreans, during the 'Gukurahundi' - a Shona expression meaning "the rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains."

But no-one talks about it, in the open. Michael has never spoken before to anyone outside his immediate family about what he witnessed.

No-one goes to Bhalagwe Camp. The fear of being caught near the abandoned site of Robert Mugabe's biggest concentration camp is too great.

The camp visit

Two men offered to take us to the camp, one white, one black. They both risked a very great deal to do so.

At the camp, there was not much left. A few brick guard houses, roofless. Shards of asbestos crackled underfoot.

Mass graves
The grave-tamperers did not even bother to fill in the exhumed graves

In the middle of the camp is an ornamental pond in the shape of Zimbabwe and around it a cluster of ten big holes in the ground. "The bones never lie," they say.

But Robert Mugabe's killers are not taking any chances. At some point between Michael dumping the dead and dying in the grave pits in 1984 and a few weeks ago, someone has gone back to Bhalagwe Camp and dug up the remnants of the murdered and dumped the bones elsewhere, leaving the holes in the ground.

The silence was prickly, the heat intense. A motorbike coughed in the near distance. Our two guides, producer/cameraman Will Daws and I stopped dead. Our cover - that we were English bird-watchers on holiday in Zimbabwe - might not last a cursory examination from the CIO.

But beneath our feet was more than evidence to start a war crimes investigation against Mugabe for his part in the killings of up to 20,000 people. The motorbike coughed again, further off, and we carried on filming.

Accusations of murder

In a safe house in Harare the phone rings and the voice down the end of the line says: "We've got an architect for your casino", gives an address, a time, and rings off. We didn't have a casino. And he wasn't an architect.

The architect turned out to be the national treasurer of the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, Fletcher Delini.

Fletcher Delini
Fletcher Delini, the national treasurer of the opposition, is accused of murder

He is an elderly Christian, suffering from diabetes, a gentle man with a slight frame and - according to Mugabe's police - a double-murderer. Delini was charged with the double murder last November and spent a month in one of Zimbabwe's grim-beyond-belief prisons.

They didn't give him proper treatment for his diabetes, his blood sugar count went higher than 20 and he started losing the sight of his one remaining eye.

There is just one problem with the case against him. Delini was 500 kilometres away on the day he was allegedly plotting his double-murder in Bulawayo. Amongst his alibi witnesses are 20 MPs and the Speaker of the House of Parliament.

Stephen Chasara
Stephen Chasara immediately after being tortured

Stephen Chasara was also picked up and questioned for his part in the Bulawayo double murder plot. He has never been to Bulawayo, he told us. But he is active in the MDC and they tortured him.

Can we film your face, use your name? "Yes, show my face." When you hear people like Stephen - despite his broken body - stand up to Mugabe in this way, one begins to wonder how long the regime can last.

Meeting the opposition

To interview the Leader of the Opposition, Morgan Tsvangerai, was not easy. His home is watched by the CIO. Last June they had deported me for the crime of working for the BBC. They had marked my card on that trip so the return journey was a little bit dodgy.

Had the police stopped a car going into Tsvangerai's home a few days ago and opened the boot they might have been surprised to see me, huddled up, mumbling into a night vision camera.

John Sweeney
John Sweeney, climbing into boot of car, to sneak a meeting the leader of the opposition

The car stopped, the boot opened. It was Tsvangerai. I shot out my arm and said: "I'm from the BBC. Is the election going to be free and fair?"

He feared not. Tsvangerai analysed Mugabe's career, from "hero to zero". They have tried to assassinate Tsvangerai twice, shot at him and charged him with treason.

He said he felt threatened, not afraid, and it was support of the ordinary people that kept him going.

The election

Who is going to win the election? If you count the posters, Mugabe. We criss-crossed Zimbabwe from west to east and back again, thousands of kilometres, and we didn't see a single Tsvangerai poster.

But that is because you can go to gaol, even be killed if you put one up. But a straw poll of every petrol station attendant told a different story. They were all going to vote for Tsvangerai. I met no-one who was going to vote Mugabe.

He has lost Matabeland, because of the 20,000 murdered in the Gukurahundi. He has lost the cities because of the corruption. And now he is losing the countryside even in his own heartland, Mashonaland. He has even lost some of the police and some of the CIO.

But will the election be fair? Or, rather, how unfair is the election going to be?

Mugabe is making sure the votes are going to be counted correctly. He has asked the CIO to assist in the smooth running of the election. Just in case.

Zimbabwe Burning was broadcast on Sunday night on BBC Two.

Producer/cameraman: Will Daws
Reporter: John Sweeney
Series Producer: Simon Finch
Editor: Fiona Murch

John Sweeney
Zimbabwe burning
John Sweeney
Locating the torture centre in the capital Harare
John Sweeney
Meeting the leader of the opposition

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