Violence returns

Violence returns
Published: 19 August 2018 (303 Views)
It is a silent, sunny afternoon in Chihwayi village, located on an expansive swampy terrain that is surrounded by mountains, more than 20km from Mutoko business centre.
Amid the scattered homesteads, a few people can be seen quietly going about their business, just like in any normal village set-up.

However, at MDC Alliance activist David Chamanga's homestead, it was a different story.

Sitting in the middle of Chihwayi village, Chamanga's homestead stands out because of terrible events that followed what was widely regarded as a peaceful election on July 30.
Two of the activist's three houses were burnt down in a suspected politically-motivated attack.

In one of the houses, half-burnt bags of fertiliser and a partly burnt calendar are all that remained in the debris-strewn single room dwelling.

In another hut, a rondavel, three charred wheelbarrows lined up the wall, a couple of metal plates were still perched on the wall shelf made of clay, while in the middle a clay pot sitting on an iron firestand stood partly obscured by the burnt grass that used to be part of the thatch.

Outside, kitchen utensils such as teapots, cups, and pots were strewn all over the yard.

According to witnesses, Chamanga was attending a Johane Masowe church vigil when he received a report that his houses were on fire.

He had to rush back home immediately, but was only able to salvage a few items before fleeing.

In what could be an indication of how hurriedly Chamanga and his family fled, a dish-drying rack on one end of the yard still had some kitchen utensils that must have been put up to drip-dry.

Chamanga, who was also a victim of politically-motivated arson in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election run-off that left an estimated 200 opposition supporters dead, said: "This happened at around midnight."

"I suspect that the attack was perpetrated by some Zanu-PF supporters," he added.

"Fortunately, I had taken my family to the night vigil. We could have been burnt to death."

A week after the incident that left villagers shocked, reminding them of the previous violent elections, the MDC Alliance campaign posters Chamanga had pasted on trees in his yard were still intact.

The homestead — which is visible from a distance — is still deserted, and appears like an ugly scar in a village that — for the first time — witnessed a peaceful pre-election period.

"This is so disturbing because for the first time, this election was unlike others.

"People were free to campaign, but we were shocked when we heard that Chamanga's homestead had been burnt down.

"It is a reminder of the 2008 period when there was intimidation and violence," said Enock, a villager. "Now we do not know what will happen next."

Mutoko, like many Zanu-PF strongholds in Mashonaland East and Central, has an ugly history of politically-motivated violence targeting opposition supporters and activists.

"Why would someone burn down a person's house because they do not agree politically?" said a driver who operates a pirate taxi in the area and is resident there.

"People here are suspecting a local village head (named) to be behind this attack, but they are also afraid to speak out because this is a serious issue."

Chamanga's case is not the only post-election incident in Mutoko East, as a couple in ward 15 was reportedly assaulted for "voting for the MDC Alliance".

According to a report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, the woman and the man, whose identity has been withheld, reported that on August 11, at around 8pm, suspected Zanu-PF activists assaulted them.

"One woman reported that she was raped by the assailants. The two also reported that their child aged nine months was assaulted and died a day later," reads part of the report.

"The violation was reported at Makosa Police Station. The police opened dockets for assault (CR 28-8-18), rape (RRB 3297086), and murder (CR29-8-18). No one had been arrested by the time of the visit.

"A post-mortem was scheduled for the 23rd August at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare."

The incidents have sown seeds of fear in the once-volatile district.

At Kagande bar at Rukau business centre, three people sat around a bottle of opaque beer, speaking in hushed tones.

"It is not safe here anymore to just say anything because you never know who will come and burn down your houses," said one of the villagers who requested to remain anonymous.

MDC Alliance presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa is challenging President Emmerson Mnangagwa's victory, citing alleged fraud and voter intimidation.

The case will be heard by the Constitutional Court on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said its members continued to offer support to victims of political violence, which flared after last month's elections.

"Forum members and secretariat have in the past week assisted many victims of organised violence and torture," the NGOs said in their human rights situation round-up published yesterday.

"The ZLHR (Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights) has represented a total of 35 human rights defenders arrested and charged with committing public violence, breaching immigration laws and the electoral act.

"The counselling services unit attended to 108 survivors.

"The public interest unit of the Forum is providing legal assistance to victims of the post-election violence to enable them to seek redress and demand accountability."

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum is comprised of ZLHR, Zimbabwe Peace Project, Amnesty International and the counselling services unit, among other groups.

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