Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Zimbabwe: Arrested, beaten, raped - yet "NCA and MDC never helped me despite the fact that I was suffering for them"

Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS ) copyright Inter Press Service (IPS)
http://www.ipsnewsasia.net/ and http://www.ipsnews.net/

By Vusumuzi Sifile

In June 2003, Pamire was among scores of people who participated in a mass demonstration organised by the then-opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and civil society organisations, among them the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA).

"I am a woman who has suffered a lot for the MDC and NCA," said Pamire. "I remember in 2003 when we participated in the mass action, I was abducted by a group of soldiers. They took me to a secluded place and took turns to rape me. I counted up to ten the number of times they raped me."

The tears that streamed down her face as she gave her testimony at the recent launch of a new NCA report revealed the trauma Pamire has experienced. The report, "Fighting for a New Constitution: Human Rights Violations Experienced by Female Members of the NCA", released on March 23, concludes that "being female and a civic or political activist comes with severe risks".

At 36, Pamire says she has been through too much suffering. She has been hospitalized many times and detained at police cells on numerous occasions. She has been gang raped. Mingled with the pain of these experiences, Pamire said the saddest part was realizing that the very people she was in the struggle with offered her little help.

"The NCA and MDC never helped me despite the fact that I was suffering for them," said a sobbing Pamire. "Only [the late] Mrs [Susan] Tsvangirai helped me. She was so supportive and helped me get medication in South Africa. If she was alive, I know things would be better for me."

Susan Tsvangirai, the wife of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, died in a car crash on March 6, 2009. She was famous for her support to mostly female activists in the MDC and the NCA.

Pamire told IPS that she felt betrayed by those who usually lead such demonstrations.

"From the day I was discharged from hospital, I have not received any support from the MDC or NCA. Even if I get to their offices, they just ignore me. It pains me that now I cannot even afford to look after my two children. I lost my job after the rape, and life has never been good for me," she said.

Pamire has two children, a 15-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son, who she says have since dropped out of school since she cannot afford to pay their school fees.

"At the moment, there is nothing I can do for my children. I have since moved them to the village in Buhera," she added. Buhera is a rural district in Manicaland Province in eastern Zimbabwe.

Life long trauma

Speakers at the launch of NCA report agreed on the need to support women who are affected by political violence, saying if not properly assisted, they will remain traumatised for the rest of their lives.

What complicates the situation for most women, said Pamire, is that they rarely get enough medical and emotional support.

NCA director Ernest Mudzengi defended his organisation and other civil society groups’ failure to adequately support victims and survivors of violence, blaming scarce financial resources.

"We have not had the kind of resources that allow for continuous support to victims and survivors, mostly because of the enormity of the challenge," said Mudzengi.

"Once someone becomes a victim it means their entire life has been affected. These people need help."

The executive director of the Women and AIDS Support Network (WASN), Mary Sandasi, said failure to address issues of violence against women has dire effects on the national response to the HIV/AIDS. She said there was a need for support mechanisms to develop the women from being victims to be survivors.

"HIV/AIDS and violence drive each other," said Sandasi. "We should be able to separate the support we give to victims and to survivors. As long as we lump them together, it may be difficult to identify them and their different needs. We need to help the survivors.

Towards national healing

The newly launched report indicates that during election campaigning, sexual violence is often used to intimidate and silence opponents. In most cases, notes the report, the perpetrators are people with strong links to the state without necessarily being part of the state.

"Politically motivated violence against women is one of the more regrettable features of contemporary Zimbabwean political life. It is a feature seen in every election since 2000, and is the likely and common experience of any woman who dares to become politically or socially active," notes the report.

Despite the hazards it exposes, the report encourages women activists to "participate in any civil society activities without fear of reprisal and/or brutal treatment from law enforcement agents".

The report comes at a time when Zimbabwe is gearing up for the launch of the national healing and reconciliation programme, which is driven mostly by the need for victims and perpetrators to forgive each other and work together in nation building.

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