By Nomalanga Moyo
8 March 2013
The hounding of human rights campaigners by the police is nothing new or surprising in Zimbabwe: since independence, ZANU PF has often used law enforcement agents to silence those it deems a threat to its existence.
But the arrest of Jestina Mukoko on Friday happened on International Women’s Day, and Zimbabwe is a signatory to international initiatives whose aim is to protect and empower women.
Mukoko is a mother, a journalist and a celebrated human rights activist whose ordeal at the hands of Zimbabwe’s police in 2008 summarises the state’s brutality and contempt for its citizens and the rule of law.
In December 2008, wearing only a night dress, Mukoko was abducted by masked security agents in the middle of the night, leaving her terrified son at home alone.
She was detained for more than two months, constantly moved from one police station to another and interrogated until she was disoriented.
During all this time Mukoko was subjected to beatings on the soles of her feet, in a bid to force her to admit that she was recruiting Zimbabweans for military training in neighbouring Botswana.
The charges brought against Mukoko collapsed at trial and it is well-known that her only crime was documenting the human rights abuses committed by the Mugabe regime against political opponents and critics.
Mukoko is just one of many other women who have been brutalised by state agents for daring to stand up to repression and abuse.
Since 2003, the Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) have mobilised Zimbabwean women to demonstrate in defence of their political, economic and social rights.
Led by fearless freedom campaigner Jenni Williams and her deputy Magodonga Mahlangu, WOZA members have experienced numerous arrests and beatings at the hands of the police.
Williams herself has been abducted and arrested more than 50 times, and over the years has had to move from one safe house to another, in a country where Mugabe critics have a tendency of disappearing without trace.
More recently, Williams was part of a group of women who were arrested and assaulted on Valentine’s Day for participating in an anti-police brutality demonstration.
The above cases don’t just highlight the repressive environment and culture of violence that characterises Zimbabwe. They also exemplify the violence against women in a society where women and girls are raped, battered and killed on a daily basis.
On Friday, news that a defenceless two-year-old child was brutally raped by Arnold Tendai Duri, a member of the Zimbabwean army made for shocking reading.
According to NewsDay, Duri this was a “ritual” sexual offence by an HIV positive Duri who later on callously dumped the badly bruised and bloodied child in the bush. Duri was sentenced to 20 years in jail, but many perpetrators of such atrocities go unpunished as most of these crimes go unreported.
If Zimbabwe is serious about addressing such crimes, it is important to start by saying ‘no’ to state-sponsored violence.