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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 March, 2004, 17:26 GMT
Secrets of Zimbabwe camps exposed

By Hilary Andersson
BBC correspondent, Zimbabwe

Hilary Andersson spent months interviewing young rapists and torturers for a BBC investigation which revealed the brutal secrets of Zimbabwe's training camps.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe's government says the camps are job training centres

This job is a steady diet of wars, death at close range, natural disasters that make the earth shake, or that cause liquid fire to spew from mountains, planes that fall out of the skies, diseases that kill millions and meetings with individuals at the heart of unspeakable tragedies.

But never before have I spent months sitting in front of young people who have tortured, raped, beaten their relatives and who speak of it quite matter-of-factly.

Not that the youths who had been in Zimbabwe's camps were happy to speak to us.

In fact it was very difficult to persuade most of them to do so.

They were terrified of being recognised by their victims if we filmed them, or of being sent back to Zimbabwe and punished for speaking out about the camps.

Coy at first

But after months of work, we convinced many that we could be trusted to disguise their faces, and sometimes voices, and they agreed to be filmed.

Several of the boys who raped in the camps were coy at first when talking to me about it.

To get them to relax about the subject I was friendly and open - and acted as if it was a normal thing to be discussing.

Several young men took me through the techniques of electrical torture

Like talking about, you know, a bad day you had at school once.

Two of the rapists' reactions stick in my mind. When they started talking - in separate interviews - they both looked at the floor not at me.

When I asked them if they too had raped they both hesitated, then laughed and said yes.

When eventually I went further and asked them how they felt about it, they seemed both proud and a little embarrassed at the same time.

Both confessed they had quite enjoyed it because they could have the pick of the girls.
Debbie was raped in a Zimbabwean youth camp

Then there were those who had tortured.

Several young men took me through the techniques of electrical torture and how it worked.

Once in the flow of the conversation it was as if they were trying to explain to me something as mundane and technical as how a car works.

"You connect this here, and that there," they would say. "Then you apply the wires to the person's genitals or arms in short bursts."

One boy went into a lot of detail about how to hang someone upside down and dunk their head in a bucket of water.

Smile politely

The strangest part, as the journalist, comes not when you ask the questions, or even when you get the answers, but when you say goodbye.

What do you say? Thank you? That was an excellent interview?

As much as your emotions are circling darkly in your head, you do find yourself shaking their hand, the hand of the rapist and the hand of the torturer.

You smile politely, and go home your mind spinning.

And it goes further. You feel revolted by them on the one hand, but also you feel sorry for some of them.

Not the boys I described above, because some of them are unremorseful thugs.

But others committed atrocities out of fear and their lives have been ruined.

Daniel was taught to torture people
One day during the filming, I phoned a girl who we had interviewed the day before and I got her voicemail.

In her message she had a sweet voice, high pitched and gentle like that of an innocent teenager.

In fact she had helped beat to death an old lady with a walking stick.

Now the girl is HIV positive. Like so many who have left the camps, she had been repeatedly raped.

'Rapists of the truth'

Zimbabwe's government is absolutely outraged at our report.

The state newspaper has called it abominable, malicious, inaccurate, odious, criminal, ignorant, misguided. They have called the BBC rapists of the truth.

They say we are involved in a conspiracy to undermine Robert Mugabe.

And they say the camps are there to instil discipline and a sense of national pride into young Zimbabweans.

It will be interesting to see if they allow international investigators into the camps.

Unfortunately some of the spin-off stories written by other media organisations have misquoted our findings in their hunt for a snazzy headline.

Rape is encouraged, in the testimonies we heard, not taught
We have no evidence that 12-year-olds are taught to torture, nor that anyone in the camps is taught to rape.

Our wording has been very specific.

The camps contain youths as young as 12. Almost everyone we spoke to who had been in the camps had been taught to beat and maim.

Most had been taught to kill.

Those we came across who had been taught to torture were all youths, rather than children.

Rape is encouraged, in the testimonies we heard, not taught.

Our evidence is based on cataloguing the testimonies, gathered by ourselves and human rights groups, of almost 100 youths who had been in the camps, and building up a picture of what happens inside.

We chose not to broadcast interviews with many individuals, who claimed they had killed and raped but whose stories were inconsistent.

Mugabe is not Hitler. He may not be involved in genocidal activities at the moment.

But he is a man whose government has killed thousands before for its political ends and once again he is using abhorrent methods to try to stay on in power.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 6 March, 2004 at 1130 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

Secrets of the Camps
17 Feb 04  |  Panorama


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