Tortured, raped and forgotten

During the bitterly contested Zimbabwe elections between President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the country's rural areas became effective no-go areas. There were numerous reports of politically motivated killings and widespread rapes, allegedly by members of Zimbabwe's national army, veterans of the country's liberation war and members of the ruling party's youth militia.

The violent campaign led Tsvangirai to withdraw from the presidential race, after he had won the first round of voting, although not by the required 50 percent plus one vote. Mugabe, who came to power at independence in 1980, became the sole candidate and claimed an overwhelming victory in the poll. The international community refused to recognise the result.

A power sharing deal has since been negotiated by the former South African President Thabo Mbeki. While the attention has shifted to whether or not the politicians can make the unity government work, the victims of political violence remain traumatised and will never forget the events of 2008.

IRIN spoke to three women in the eastern province of Manicaland.

Jessica Tonderai* is a mother of three and lives in Manicaland's rural area of Murambina. During the elections men dressed in military uniform beat her two daughters and her son and then raped her.

"The politicians may be engaged in talks to share power but they should know that thousands of their supporters, especially from the Movement for Democratic Change, are hurting emotionally and physically.

"More than 10 men stormed my house and started beating my two teenaged daughters who were sleeping in the small lounge. They were screaming obscenities and asking where I was hiding, and when the beatings continued and my children continued crying in anguish, I ran towards the lounge and pleaded with the men to stop it.

"They then turned on me and accused me of misleading people into supporting the MDC through my post as an organising secretary for women.

"My son, who had been hiding with some neighbours, came to the house to investigate the commotion. He was dragged into the house and beaten up. They ordered all of us to strip and started beating us on the buttocks.

''The politicians may be engaged in talks to share power but they should know that thousands of their supporters are hurting emotionally and physically ''

"They ordered me to dress and bundled me inside a truck. Other men were seated in another truck before the two vehicles drove off. One of the soldiers started prodding me between my legs with a gun and said he wanted to punish me for supporting [US President George] Bush and [former British Prime Minister Tony] Blair.

"His friends cheered loudly before they stopped the truck. They threw me to the ground on the side of the road before they started raping me. I think about nine men took turns to rape me.

"With such a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS I am worried that I may have been infected with the virus. I have been counselled and will soon be going to be tested to find out if I am positive."

Sarudzai* is an HIV positive former sex worker from the rural area of Murambina. She told IRIN she was abducted by veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war and soldiers of the national army during the country's recent elections.

"I was taken to one of the torture bases where soldiers and war veterans took turns to rape me. They did not use condoms but would make me clean myself before I was raped again.

"I allowed that to go on until five had raped me. I warned them that they risked contracting HIV/AIDS because I had the virus. They flew into a rage and accused me of wanting to kill them.

"They beat me on the soles of my feet and buttocks. They drove off with promises to return, but I crawled away to safety."

Nyarai*, 16, lives in Manicaland's rural area of Makoni. She was abducted because she was wearing an MDC T-shirt.

"A truck full of youths wearing ZANU-PF regalia drove by and the youths ordered me to jump inside. They started fondling me and tore away the shirt I was wearing, leaving me naked.

"The physical abuse continued until they arrived at a torture camp where they announced that they had captured a 'sell out'.

''When four had violated me, the older men who were watching ordered them to stop as I was bleeding profusely''

"The ZANU-PF youths and a few older men who appeared to be in charge argued about who would make me 'his wife' before they all agreed that the youths should take turns to rape me.

"When four had violated me, the older men who were watching ordered them to stop as I had started bleeding profusely. I had started menstruating the previous night.

"They then filled a drum with water before several of them submerged my head in the water. While my head was in the drum, my buttocks were lashed several times causing me to choke. This was done repeatedly until I think I passed out or became numb with pain.

"When I came to my senses I was ordered to confess that I had been misled into becoming an MDC supporter and that I would rejoin ZANU-PF. I did that and stumbled back home. I was assisted by well wishers who put me in a scotch cart and took me home where arrangements were made to send me to hospital."

*Not their real names