Zimbabwe opposition activists arrested on accusations of lying that they were abducted make a court appearance at the magistrate's courts in Harare. Picture: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
Zimbabwe opposition activists arrested on accusations of lying that they were abducted make a court appearance at the magistrate's courts in Harare. Picture: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

In Zimbabwe, We can't breathe

By Shannon Ebrahim Time of article published Jun 17, 2020

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This is the story of three Zimbabwean women – who couldn’t breathe. 

It was a sunny Wednesday in the middle of May in Harare. The youngest MP in Zimbabwe - Joana Mamombe, with two other MDC youth leaders, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova - decided to embark on a protest in Warren Park against the government’s failure to feed people during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Upon leaving the protest, they were stopped at a roadblock, manned by the police and the military. The police spokesperson confirmed to the state newspaper that the three women had been arrested for attending an illegal protest.

That is when the horror began, a horror so unspeakable that no woman should ever have to endure it, most particularly, not in a democratic country. The three women were taken from the police by unidentified men who drove them 120km north of Harare.

According to their testimonies, they were dragged into a pit and then the beating started. They were viciously beaten over and over again, and forced to drink each other’s urine and eat one another’s faeces.

It is hard to imagine the horror they were subjected to.

Then came the sexual assault and the threats - that if they continued with their political activities they would be attacked again and again.

Zimbabwean MP Joana Mamombe was one of three women activists who were abducted and tortured. File picture: African News Agency (ANA

The nightmare went on for what must have seemed like an eternity, and two days later, they were left for dead at the side of the road in a marketplace. Mamombe was pushed out of a moving vehicle and suffered head injuries as a result.

It was an ordeal so horrific that it is surprising the women survived it. The violation of their human rights was so outrageous that the government’s only defence was that they fabricated the story in order to make the government of Zimbabwe look bad.

The three women were eventually found and taken to hospital to treat their injuries. When they went to the police to report this gross injustice, they were told they were lying.

After visiting their lawyers last Wednesday to discuss the incident, they were arrested at the lawyer’s offices for supposedly lying to police about their abduction and torture.

They were charged with “making false statements prejudicial to the state.” Bail has been denied for the women and they are currently languishing in Chikurubi prison.

Zimbabwe opposition activists arrested on accusations of lying that they were abducted make a court appearance at the magistrate's courts in Harare. The three opposition activists alleged that they were sexually abused by their abductors, whom they said took them from a police station in May following an anti-government protest. Despite been hospitalised at the time, prosecutors charged them with contravening lockdown regulations. Picture: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

These women are youth leaders in Zimbabwe who have been brutalised and sexually assaulted by suspected security agents just north of our border. Where are the protests that their lives matter, where is the condemnation from women’s leagues and civil society human rights activists in our own country?

We say we want an end to femicide, the gross abuse of human rights, and gender-based violence, but when this happens across our border, we are conspicuously silent.

It is time for our youth to rise up in solidarity with young women leaders in defence of their human rights, whether they are members of a ruling party or opposition.

Our failure to speak up for these women has meant their nightmare continues. It is now time for us to say in solidarity “We Can’t Breathe.”

* Ebrahim is Independent group foreign editor

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