Zanu-PF's campaign of rape

Here are 70 more reasons why Robert Mugabe’s regime must end: 70 Zimbabwean women were raped 380 times—and that’s a snapshot of a systematic campaign of sexual violence sanctioned by the ruling party.

All the women targeted by Zanu-PF members were supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said a report by NGO Aids-Free World, released in Johannesburg on Thursday.

The release of the report, Electing to rape: Sexual terror in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, coincides with the final day of the 16 days of activism of no violence against women and children.

Global advocacy group Aids-Free World called for Southern Africa leaders—and particularly South African President Jacob Zuma—to use their power to see justice served for the women.

Director Stephen Lewis said the women are living in terror of a repeat attack in the next elections.

Rape camps
“The rape camps are still in place and the Zanu-PF war veterans and youth militia are still present,” said Lewis.

“That so many of the rapes were committed by multiple perpetrators demonstrates the concerted use of gang rape as a strategy to quell political opposition,” said the report.

Forty-two of the women were gang raped. Of those, fifteen women were raped by five or more men. In addition to their own rapes, eleven of the women witnessed or heard multiple Zanu-PF men raping other MDC women either at bases or in other locations.

A woman from Harare testified: “I had been at the base for about two days when a group of three men instructed me to enter a room. The room was large, with many other women MDC members and Zanu-PF men inside. Then they said that we were going to sleep together. They forced me to lie on the ground and stripped off all of my clothes ... All three of them were rough when they raped me. Around the room there were other men raping other girls. All the men in that room were either raping or waiting to rape women. They said they wanted to show MDC supporters that we had no power against them.”

Betsy Apple, legal director of the organisation, said the rapes qualified as crimes against humanity and could be prosecuted in South African courts or elsewhere in the region under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction.

Tools to censure
Apple said other bodies who could take action included the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has its own tribunal, as well as other tools—including sanctions and suspension—that could used to censure Zimbabwe.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights could also hear complaints of human-rights abuses, and the African Union could take action against Zimbabwe to express its disapproval, said Aids-Free World.

But these bodies have not used their full force against Mugabe and South Africa has been criticised for its policy of quiet diplomacy under former president Thabo Mbeki, but President Jacob Zuma recently appointed a team to look into it’s neighbours problems.

“It is terrible to say, but legitimate to say, that that makes individual countries and regions complicit in what Robert Mugabe is doing,” said Lewis. “The African Union is no better. Zimbabwe violates every human rights protocol on women that the African Union has put in place and not a word of censure is voiced.”

While the report isn’t new—the MDC reported that 200 supporters were killed, 5 000 abducted and 200 000 forced from their homes in the pre-election violence—activists are concerned about human-rights abuse “amnesia” in the country’s battle to regain stability.

Calls have been made to drop sanctions against Zimbabwe in a bid to rebuild the shattered economy that saw record levels of inflation. The report may come at a bad time, in a current climate of hope for Zimbabwe. This week a top United Nations praised “great progress” in easing Zimbabwe’s humanitarian crisis. UN assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs Catherine Bragg said it had been “refreshing to see great progress in so many aspects that worried us in February. I trust this positive trend will continue.”

Lewis said the human rights “amnesia” in Zimbabwe could not be sustained.

“It is not our job to pretend there is a political reality that doesn’t exist,” he Lewis.

Paula Akugizibwe from the Aids Rights and Alliance of Southern Africa pointed out that none of the women in the report were given access to antiretrovirals after the rapes—as they had to go through the police to get treatment.

“Police were directly associated with the violence,” she said. One in seven of the women believe they contracted HIV/Aids from the gang rapes.

“The strategy of sexual violence should be the final straw that breaks the back of world paralysis,” said Lewis.

“When a nation-state sponsors a single-minded sexual assault on women because of their political affiliation, then the time has surely come to end the infamy.”

View more on our special report on 16 days of activism here:.

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.  Read more from Verashni Pillay

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