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National healing without truth-telling void: Mukoko



FIREBRAND human rights defender Jestina Mukoko, who was abducted by state security agents on 3 December 2008 and spent 21 days incommunicado, has written to President Emmerson Mnangagwa imploring him to act upon state-sanctioned forced disappearances and incidents like the one she experienced.

Mukoko is the immediate past director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP). In the letter dated 6 March, Mukoko said she was encouraged to write to Mnangagwa after she was motivated after he intimated that it is time to heal.

 While in Bulawayo recently at an event organised by the Faith for the Nation campaign, Mnangagwa said “it is time to heal and not wound” victims of forced disappearances and torture.

Stimulated by Mnangagwa’s remarks in Bulawayo, Mukoko wrote to him saying: “The subject of enforced and involuntary disappearance is one that is spoken in hushed voices as citizens fear being subjected to the same. Considering my ordeal and how it was publicised not just in Zimbabwe but caught the attention of leaders in the region and internationally, I am going to engage you on the subject without fear. I have also detailed my experience in the book The Abduction and Trial of Jestina Mukoko; the fight for Human Rights in Zimbabwe, published in April 2016.”

“It has been fifteen years since the fateful morning of 3 December 2008 when I was abducted from my house by State security agents, only wearing a nightdress and morning gown. The then Minister of State Security Didymus Mutasa issued a statement denying the involvement of State security agents, a position that turned out to be false as judicial proceedings were to reveal. I have gone through individually funded rehabilitation.”

“While I now view myself as a survivor who has triumphed, there are times when I feel my wound is still festering because I do not know the reason I was abducted, and even more so, abductions continue to take place. Your Excellency, I spent 21 days incommunicado before being charged with allegedly recruiting young people for the opposition MDC-T party to be trained in Botswana to perform acts of sabotage and terrorism to overthrow a constitutionally elected government in Zimbabwe.”

Mukoko added that Mnangagwa and many others know there was neither recruitment nor training of so-called saboteurs. She called on Mnangagwa to ensure justice.

“The State owes me the truth in relation to why I was abducted. Those who abducted me are known and for all these years have not been held accountable for their actions; rather they have been protected. I plead, Your Excellency, that unless they are held to account, there will be no cost for their actions and they will do it again and again,” she wrote.

 “Impunity is a global epidemic that has even been acknowledged by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres. How do I begin to heal when the perpetrators of this grievous crime against humanity continue to walk scot-free and might even have been rewarded for their harmful actions?”.

There are several cases of forced disappearances that have happened after Mukoko’s case and she implored Mnangagwa to bring closure to them.

Journalist-cum activist Itai Dzamara is still unaccounted for, ever since he was forcibly taken away while having a haircut at a barbershop in Harare’s Glen View suburb in 2015.

Dzamara is reported to have been forcibly taken away by men who accused him of stocktheft.

“In 2015 when this happened, Your Excellency, you were the leader of government business in Parliament and you described Itai’s disappearance as barbaric. Such acknowledgement gave us hope that something would be done to facilitate his return and reunification with family. However, we continue to hope in vain,” wrote Mukoko.

“Your Excellency, how can Itai’s parents, wife and children heal when they do not know what happened to him and no one has accounted for his disappearance? While the courts ruled that the police should investigate and give regular updates, the family has not received any official updates except for what they read in the media and some of it toxic, scratching their open wounds. Itai’s disappearance now seems to have turned into a cold case.”

 She added that in November last year when the news broke of the recovery of the dead body of Bishop Tapfumanei Masaya in Acturus in Harare she was reminded of the abduction and murder of Tonderai Ndira in May 2008.

 “The cost on these families whose lives were so tragically transformed is massive and their needs must be considered if they are to start the journey of healing. It is a time to heal, you say Your excellency.

 But how does Tawanda Muchehiwa heal without justice? Twenty-two-year-old Muchehiwa sustained wounds in the torture he was subjected to after being abducted in broad daylight at a shopping centre in Bulawayo in July 2020, an incident captured on CCTV.

His assailants claimed to be police officers who were bringing him under arrest,” she wrote.

“Your Excellency, the call to heal is stripped of sincerity. Citizens should be protected from abductions by the State and it is the State’s role as the foremost duty bearer for all rights guaranteed by the Constitution, to create conditions where citizens’ right to personal security is guaranteed and if violated, those responsible are held accountable.”

Peter Magombeyi, a junior doctor, also disappeared in September 2019 for days before he was dumped in Nyabira, disoriented by the severe torture he sustained.

Magombeyi’s colleagues staged night vigils and protests for days demanding his unconditional release. They presented a petition to the Speaker of Parliament and it was after the protest that he was dumped.

“Your Excellency, I am aware there have been strong denials by the State as to who is perpetrating these heinous crimes. A third hand has been blamed for the abductions. If there is a third hand, then surely a State that is duty bound to protect its citizens cannot afford to fold hands as unknown forces torment its citizens. The call to heal is not at all misplaced, but it requires much more for it to bear fruit. On account of his ordeal, Dr Magombeyi is no longer resident in the country at a time when the country requires qualified personnel in our health institutions,” wrote Mukoko.

She also said when the news of the abduction of comedian Samantha Kuraya popularly known as Gonyeti started filtering through in August 2019, she was shocked as to why she had been targeted.

Obert Masaraure, leader of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, was abducted in January 2019 and subjected to torture before being dumped. In the same year, Tatenda Mombeyarara was abducted in a similar fashion then tortured and injected with an unknown substance.

Mombeyarara now has injuries that are lifelong. Mukoko again expressed concern over these cases.

“Unless perpetrators account for their actions, they remain motivated to do harm without deterrence,” she wrote.

Then there is the case of the opposition trio of Joanah Mamombe, Councillor Cecelia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova who survived abduction and severe torture in May 2020.

This was after they joined a protest against hunger in Warren Park, Harare as communities struggled to make ends meet during the global Covid 19 pandemic-imposed lockdown.

They were reportedly abducted in Harare and disappeared for days before being dumped in Bindura. The three reported having been initially flagged down at a police checkpoint on Samora Machel Avenue before being ordered to drive to Harare Central Police Station.

 It is unclear how they found themselves out of the police station and custody, but what followed, in their account, was being subjected to severe torture and sexual assault.

“Your Excellency, it is inconceivable that the three young leaders are expected to heal in the absence of a conscious and gender sensitive process to address their experiences. They were made to drink each other’s urine; their breasts were fondled and one of them was christened ‘Dolly Paton’ as she was being body shamed. Another one of them was violated with a maize stalk thrust up her anus. They were made to sing and dance by their perpetrators,’ wrote Mukoko.

 “As if to add salt to their wounds, the three young women were hauled before the courts for reporting that they had been arrested initially and then disappeared. The three were to endure a traumatic experience of prolonged criminal proceedings in which they, being victims, were now being charged for allegedly faking their abductions.”

 “Healing cannot take place where the truth is not known, realities are distorted and victims are further traumatised. A call to healing is effective when it is accompanied by all necessary processes and resources to alleviate the harm incurred. Thus, truth needs to be told, assailants held to account and relevant institutions ought to take a stand in deterring enforced disappearances and guaranteeing non-recurrence. More so, victims, survivors and their loved ones deserve to go through a State-sponsored rehabilitation process to deal with their living traumas”. — STAFF WRITER.

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