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News in depth: Horrific cost of abductions laid bare as one victim now battles mysterious illness

Enforced disappearances and abductions have become an established pattern against government critics.

Government critics continue to bear the brunt of abductions with an employee of a regional non-governmental network, Southern Africa Political Economy Series (Sapes) Trust, in Harare being the latest victim.

Prominent  government critic and convener at the Sapes Trust Ibbo Mandaza on Friday disclosed that the female employee was abducted near Avenues Clinic while walking to work and before she was sexually abused last Thursday.

The 19-year-old victim was later dumped by the roadside in a harrowing incident.

Mandaza told The Standard that the girl was approached by individuals in a car, who pretended to be inquiring about something before forcibly pushing her into their car.

They allegedly sprayed her with an unknown substance.

Mandaza said the young woman later regained consciousness in a location in the western suburbs.

“It was last Thursday; she was abducted on her way to work at 8am near Avenues Clinic,” Mandaza said.

“Occupants of an unidentified vehicle pretended to be inquiring about something before they pushed her into their car and sprayed something on her.”

Mandaza said the girl was later sexually abused.

“She was dropped somewhere in the western suburbs having been sexually abused,” he said.

Mandaza said the case was reported to the police, but there has been zero headway into the investigations.

“They haven’t come back to us,” he said.

“This is shocking and shameful enough, but to discover as we have, that this criminal practice is rampant, and yet ZRP are silent about it, is alarming,”

Efforts to get a comment from national police spokesperson assistant commissioner Paul Nyathi were fruitless.

In November last year, parliamentarians grilled Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi over the police’s seemingly lackadaisical approach in carrying out investigations into politically motivated abductions, enforced disappearances and murder of opposition activists.

There were several cases of attempted abductions of opposition members before and after the disputed August 2023 elections.

Enforced disappearances and abductions have become an established pattern against government critics.

Some of the victims have been found dead while others such as activist Itai Dzamara are yet to be accounted for.

Last year, former Citizens Coalition for Change CCC) councillor Takudzwa Ngadziore recorded a short video of gun-toting men closing in on him before he was abducted, tortured and injected with an unknown substance.

He was later dumped in Mazowe.

This publication last week tracked CCC Harare councillor Womberaishe Nhende, who was snatched in September 2023 by unknown persons.

His abductors kept him in captivity for hours alongside another CCC activist Sanele Mkhuhlane before they were released.

They were assaulted and tortured before being injected with an unknown substance and later dumped in Mapinga, about 73km along the Harare-Chirundu highway.

Nhende still bears the physical and emotional scars from his abduction by suspected Zanu PF and state agents.

“I have Jesus stripes all over my body,” he said.

“My left shoulder is still aching; the top left side of my back is still in pain to the extent that a couple of weeks ago I was not even able to drive.

“My legs are in constant pain, I do not have balance when I am walking.”

He said he has been undergoing therapy for a stomach ailment with ongoing consultations scheduled to monitor his progress.

 “I had a couple of tests; I had DNA regeneration, blood, urine and faeces tests,” he said.

“The doctors tried to get samples from every part of the body so that they could be satisfied to understand what it is.

“I am still waiting for certain results, some have come out and I have been under treatment for a stomach ailment...”

He disclosed how his initial hospitalisation in Zimbabwe was disrupted by security forces, culminating in the arrest of his legal representatives

“It was a staggered admission,” he said.

“I was admitted here in Zimbabwe, but my security was compromised.

“There was forceful entry into the hospital by members of the security forces on the firstday when I was admitted at Parktown.

“Second day they came with (police’s) Law and Order (detectives) and they arrested my lawyers Doug Coltart and Tapiwa Muchineripi.”

Fearing for his safety, Nhende sought refuge in South Africa where he underwent a month-long hospitalisation followed by intensive physiotherapy and counseling sessions.

Nhende said he was still suffering from lingering health issues, including reduced appetite and persistent nausea.

“I now have serious problems in terms of eating; the portion of food that I used to take back then has significantly reduced,” he said.

“I easily get nauseated and in most cases I eat around 4pm because that’s when I would be feeling very hungry.

“I force myself to eat. I take natural yoghurt for energy during the day.”

His family now lives in constant fear for his safety.

“But by virtue of being a councillor, people just come looking for you, perhaps they need help on certain things,” he said.

“So there's that fear that it might be the state that has come again under the guise of someone that needs help.

“It's something that builds a lot of paranoia within my family.”

According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, over 5,894 people were abducted by the state since 2000.

Activist Pride Mukono raised concern over unresolved cases of abductions.

 “Abductions have affected the general human rights situation, particularly the fundamental freedoms of safety, life, assembly and expression,” Mukono said.

“This, therefore, places Zimbabwe as one of the hotspots in the region and this is very worrisome given that Zimbabwe is a signatory to several international conventions including the UN charter, which outlaws abduction and torture by the state.”

Human rights activists have on several occasions urged the government to adopt the United Nations (UN) Convention Against Torture (CAT) to show cause that it is serious about upholding universally adopted human rights .

CAT is a UN convention, which requires states to take legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures to prevent acts of torture or cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment within their territories.

The CAT was adopted by consensus in the general assembly of the UN in 1984 and came into operation on 26 June, 1987. 

Zimbabwe and Tanzania are the only Southern African Development Community countries that have neither signed nor ratified it.

“We have also seen the likes of activists such as Obert Masaraure, who was also abducted and tortured.

“There were CCTVs, which showed the individuals who were responsible for that, but no investigation has been done to date and this is very worrisome,” Mukono said.

“It shows that the state is the one that is responsible for some of these abductions.”

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights lawyer Paida Saurombe said Section 49 of the constitution provides that every person has the right to personal liberty.

“The constitution is clear that a person cannot be abducted. If the state wants to engage a person for whatever reason, it must be done in terms of the law,” Saurombe said.

Another lawyer Dumisani Dube said there was need for strict adherence to constitutional rights, and for the legal system to address reported incidents of abductions.

Dube said Section 93 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act (chapter 9:23) criminalises illegal detention, kidnapping and abduction of citizens.

“In terms of section 50(7) any person may approach the High Court for an order of "habeas corpus" requiring the whereabouts of detained persons in terms of section 57(7) of the constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No 20),” he said.

Zanu PF director of information and publicity Farai Marapira said the ruling party was not involved in the abduction of government critics.

“Be that as it may, as Zanu PF we have the utmost trust in our police and respect and appreciate their professionalism,” Marapira said.

“It is our belief that to the best of their ability they chase all recorded cases down as is shown by their high apprehension record. I am sure all reported cases shall be resolved in due course.

“Anything else said is mere rhetoric and grandstanding by perennial mudslingers.”

Zimbabwe’s history of abductions predates the country’s independence from 1980 and most of the cases remain unresolved.

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