Political violence can be expressed in various forms. It should be noted that the same men have been at the helm of Zimbabwe’s government since end of colonisation, in 1980.  Recent events in the country have mirrored those of the past.  This article explores rape as political violence in Zimbabwe.

In May 2020, 3 opposition party youth leaders (Movement for Democratic Change), Cecillia Chimbiri, Joanah Mamombe, and Netsai Marova were abducted, beaten and sexually assaulted by Zimbabwean state agents.  They were arrested at a roadblock guarded by police and soldiers after attending a protest in Harare, against the government’s failure to provide for the poor during the country’s Covid-19 lockdown.  A few days later, a local man found them badly injured and traumatised on a roadside, 60 miles away from Harare. During the three days of horror, the women were taken to a remote, wooded area where they were beaten, stripped naked, sexually assaulted with firearms, and forced to drink each other’s urine.

She is Africa | Political activists Cecillia Chimbiri, Joanah Mamombe, and Netsai Marova

Their ordeal was far from over.  The State has instituted charges of breaking lockdown restrictions, trying to incite violence, and making false accusations of abduction, torture and sexual abuse.  As a result of her rape accusations and resulting trauma, Judge Bianca Makwande ordered Joanah Mamombe to be mentally evaluated by government doctors in Zimbabwe’s worst prison, Chikurubi maximum prison. Mamombe was released on bail however she is back in prison for the mental evaluation. Chikurubi prison is famous for overcrowding, no food and lack of sanitation.  Here the State, through their judiciary arm, continues to punish and retraumatise Joanah, in hopes she will recant her story.

She is Africa| Rape as political violence | Cecillia Chimbiri, Joanah Mamombe, and Netsai Marova arrive in court| Image credit: Fadzayi Mahere |

Connection between sexual abuse and political violence

Individual state agents do not arbitrarily inflict sexual abuse during torture. It is political violence and should be directly attributed to the State. Sexual violence as a political weapon is not new to Zimbabwe.  There is documented history of Zimbabwe’s ruling party using sexual abuse as a political weapon to punish opposition members.  Here rape is used to correct, punish and weaken women, or partners, for their political activities.

Zimbabwe’s history of sexual abuse as political violence

In 2008, during the presidential elections, rape was systemically used to target male political activists through their wives. During those heightened political times, many women political activists and wives of political activists were abducted and raped by state agents.

The 1980s Gukurahundi genocide was a series of massacres against the Ndebele civilians in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe.  The death count ranges from 3,750 to 30,000 people.  Like the Mamombe ordeal, the 5th Brigade sexually abused, raped women and made them drink urine and excreta. This was done to punishment Ndebele men for politically opposing, through ZAPU political party, majority rule ZANU political party.

She is Africa | Rape as political violence | Images from Gurukahundi

Why sexual abuse is a weapon of choice in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is deeply patriarchal.  Given society’s reaction to rape and sexual violence, the use of rape as political punishment is brutally lethal.  Zimbabwean society often blames rape survivors and views the woman as “damaged goods”.  In such a patriarchal society, a woman’s value is heavily determined by her marriageability – and “damaged goods” are unmarriageable.

The intersection of sexual violence and political oppression is unique to women activists, who are already underrepresented in the political arena in SADC. As a result of this sexual abuse, women withdraw from politics and become alienated from their families and community.  The State continues to punish women through sexual abuse and resulting traumatic events.

I believe her.

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