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Zimbabwe: Sunday’s violence and the aftermath

The violent crackdown on dissent in Harare this past Sunday is starting to have repercussions around the world and in the nation. The US has suggested an increase of sanctions on the Mugabe government – the challenge is finding a way to apply pressure that doesn’t make the situation more miserable for average Zimbabweans. There’s already an arms embargo, a travel ban and an asset freeze on President Robert Mugabe and other top officials. It’s also unclear (to me, at least) whether US/UN/EU pressure will have effect without strong pressure from South Africa and from China… and recent history suggests that China is unlikely to cooperate in applying pressure to the Mugabe government.

In the meantime, there’s been violence against a police barracks in Mufakose, a suburb of Harare. The government newspaper blames the “militant youth” segment of the MDC for cutting through a boundary fence and lobbing teargas canisters and petrol bombs into police lodgings, injuring three police officers. Another bombing took place in Gweru, a smaller city near Bulawayo. The MDC denies involvement with the bombings, pointing out that the only people in Zimbabwe who have tear gas are the army and the police. Jonathan, writing at Head Heeb, notes that this is a truly unusual development in Zimbabwean resistance:

If the bombers were indeed opposition supporters – and low as the government’s credibility may ordinarily be on such matters, there’s every reason to believe they were – then it marks a significant escalation, because organized violence hasn’t been a notable tactic of the civic opposition in recent years.

The Mail and Guardian, one of South Africa’s better papers (owned by a noted Zimbabwean activist and strongly anti-Mugabe), has published the account from a police officer who witnessed the beatings of activists Sunday night. The officer alleges that the beatings were delivered by an army commando unit and were intended to kill the leaders of the MDC opposition:

“I have been in the police force for three years, and I have been involved in the assault of suspects.

“But what I saw on Sunday was not assault. It was attempted murder, especially on Tsvangirai, [opposition leader Lovemore] Madhuku and [MDC deputy secretary for international affairs Grace] Kwinjeh.”

The account goes on to detail the techniques used by the officers in beating the prisoners over the course of two hours, reviving the detainees when they passed out and beating them into unconsciousness again. According to the officer’s account, the detainees were delivered to different police stations for further detention early on Monday morning.

Zimbabwean lawyers and doctors had a difficult time gaining access to the detained activists – doctos were finally allowed to see their patients on Tuesday afternoon. According to the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, 20 of the 64 people detained were injured severely enough that they remain in hospital. Five suffered broken bones, three suffered severe head injuries, and 14 were beaten severely enough to cause soft tissue injuries. The delay in treatment caused further complications, the doctors say – Morgan Tsvanirgai lost so much blood that he’s suffering from anemia and has needed a transfusion. The press release from the ZADHR hasn’t appeared on the web yet – I enclose the text below, which I received via email earlier today.

Predictably, Uncle Bob has a slightly different view of events than the MDC does. He argues that the MDC was responsible for the violence of Sunday night and that the injuries suffered by the opposition leaders were as a result of resisting arrest. He complains that the MDC isn’t being criticized for instigating violence:

“When [western governments] criticise the government when it tries to prevent violence and punish perpetrators of that violence we take the position that they can go hang,” he said.

14 March 2007

Press Statement


The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) has, having been granted extremely delayed access to Opposition Party Leaders and Civil Society Activists arrested on Sunday 11 March 2007, been able to assess the extent of the injuries they sustained.

It is highly regrettable that the medical treatment of these persons was wilfully delayed by the Zimbabwe Republic Police despite the stated urgency of the need for medical treatment. This resulted in the aggravation of injuries sustained in several persons.

In violation of the rights of the injured persons detained, medical treatment was denied on 11 March 2007 and again on Monday 12 March 2007. In default of a High Court Order granted on the evening 12 March 2007 the police further denied medical access to the injured persons. Permission to take the injured to a medical facility was finally granted on the afternoon of Tuesday 13 March 2007.

In the interim several of the persons detained were in a grave medical condition. Of the 64 persons attended to 20 are currently admitted to hospital for treatment.

The injuries documented were consistent with beatings with blunt objects heavy enough to cause the following:

* Fractures to hands, arms and legs in 5 individuals including Lovemore Madhuku with a fractured ulna. 3 of these, Elton Mangoma, Sekai Holland and Morgan Tsvangirai sustained multiple fractures.
* Severe, extensive and multiple soft tissue injuries to the backs, shoulders, arms, buttocks and thighs of 14 individuals.
* Head injuries to 3 individuals, Nelson Chamisa, Morgan Tsvangirai and Lovemore Madhuku with the latter two sustaining deep lacerations to the scalp.
* A possibly ruptured bowel in 1 individual due to severe blunt trauma to the abdomen.
* A split right ear lobe sustained by Grace Kwinjeh.

Prolonged detention without accessing medical treatment resulted in severe haemorrhage in Morgan Tsvangirai leading to severe anaemia which warranted a blood transfusion. Injuries sustained by Sekai Holland were also worsened by denial of timely access to medical treatment which led to an infection of deep soft tissue in her left leg. Denial of access to treatment in another individual suffering from hypertension lead to angina.

Further tests are currently being carried out to determine the fuller extent of injuries in several of those currently admitted. Some will require surgical procedures as part of their treatment. Sekai Holland has already undergone a surgical fixation of the fracture in her left ankle.

2 of the individuals hospitalised were admitted due to conditions resulting from poor conditions of detention with severe diarrhoea in 1 individual and extensive and severe flea bites in 1 individual.

In addition to those tortured during the course of their arrest, 2 individuals were shot while attending the funeral of Gift Tandare, who was shot dead on Sunday March 11 2007. The two individuals sustained gunshot wounds to the left ankle and right arm respectively. One sustained a shattered left ankle from the gunshot wound and is likely to require amputation from the left ankle downwards. The other individual primarily sustained shrapnel wounds early on Monday 12 March but however was shot again in the same arm on the evening of Monday 12 March upon his return to the funeral resulting in a open fracture to the arm, the severity of which may warrant amputation of that arm.

1 thought on “Zimbabwe: Sunday’s violence and the aftermath”

  1. What I still try to understand or fathom, is how South Africa remains so silent on this? Is there something that happened or some kind of truce agreed in the apartheid era that keeps them from taking some kind of action?

    Truth be told, the leadership didn’t acknowledge the issues surrounding HIV either did they? Ho Hum!

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