By Tererai Karimakwenda
SW Radio Africa
06 August, 2014
Several civil society organizations in Zimbabwe have condemned the reported torture of internally displaced residents from the Chingwizi Camp in Mwenezi, who were arrested over the weekend after protests to relocate a local clinic turned violent and two police trucks were burned.
The angry villagers had disarmed riot police officers last week, during failed efforts to force them to move to small plots on Nuanetsi Ranch, without the compensation promised by government. The incident left two trucks burned to a shell and forced police officers to flee from Chingwizi.
In a revenge attack over the weekend, residents said the army burnt down their tents and destroyed property while police went on the “warpath” with baton sticks, claiming they were searching for perpetrators of last week’s carnage.
The police first arrested 300 villagers when they descended on the camp Saturday, with thousands reported to have fled into the bush and now living in the open. But only 29 were forced to appear in a Chiredzi Court Tuesday, facing charges of public violence.
Defence lawyer Collen Maboke told SW Radio Africa that all 29 allege that they were tortured and denied food since their arrest on Sunday. Lawyers were also denied access to them until Tuesday, which is a violation of their constitutional rights.
Maboke said they applied to the court to have the arrests declared illegal but the court said it had no jurisdiction to make that decision. The lawyers are now challenging the state’s request to hold the accused on remand until August 14th. That decision is expected in court Thursday morning.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who are representing the arrested villagers, plus the Zimbabwe Peace Project and the Crisis Coalition have all condemned the police torture and appealed to government to investigate the situation at Chingwizi.
The anger that led to attacks by the camp residents has intensified since 3,000 families were forced to move from their homes in the flooded Tokwe-Mukosi area in February and settle at Chingwizi Camp.
Conditions there have been described as “inhumane”, with the families enduring crowded tents, a shortage of food, toilets, clinics, schools and basic supplies of blankets and clothing. It has also been alleged that donated supplies were being sold for profit by officials.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back took place last week, when police were recruited to try and force the remaining residents to move without compensation to one-hectare plots at Nuanetsi Ranch, instead of the promised five-hectare plots.
The villagers fear that government will renege on their promises once they leave the camp. Those relocated to Nuanetsi are also being forced to grow sugar cane or lose their right to donated food aid.