BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
“THEY must rot in jail!” Selma Modi (38) of Kalembo Farm in Chegutu yelled as she narrated her harrowing ordeal of last Tuesday night at the hands of armed Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) personnel.
She was assaulted together with several other villagers by soldiers from Jason Ziyaphapha Moyo Airbase in Chegutu, who were reportedly avenging for an attack on one of their own by a member of a machete-wielding gang that roams the area.
“I am a mere housewife,” Modi said, battling to control sobs that were making her narration almost inaudible. “I don’t know the alleged machete gangster who injured the soldier. I wasn’t aware of the incident but I was assaulted and injured.”
Dozens of Kalembo Farm villagers are nursing injuries sustained during the skirmishes with security agents who raided their homesteads in the dead of night.
The soldiers accused the villagers of hiding the unknown machete gangster who had stabbed one of them during a beer brawl. The two, according to some villagers, were allegedly fighting over a woman.
The incident occurred at Smifort Bar on Sunday last week and on Tuesday night, soldiers raided villagers’ homes breaking doors and windows to gain entry and randomly beating them up for failing to disclose the whereabouts of the alleged machete gangster.
The soldiers also allegedly stormed a funeral wake, where they harassed mourners in search of the suspect.
After beating them, they detained some, only to release them later.
Some sustained injuries on hands and legs while others suffered bruises, according to medical reports seen by NewsDay from Chegutu District Hospital.
Doctors recommended that the injured be medically examined to ascertain the extent of their injuries be but some could not afford the procedure.
“It was so humiliating and dehumanising to be beaten on my back as if I was a child. They were taking turns to beat me using cooking sticks which they took from my kitchen while my 17-year-old son was watching.
“My husband watched helplessly as I was being beaten as he had also been savaged. Right now I am not able to sit. My back is swollen and stiff. The pain is unbearable. The soldiers must be removed from the camp and they must rot in jail,” Modi said.
Army bosses reportedly pledged to fund medical expenses for the injured villagers during a meeting convened at Kalembo Farm last Friday.
But in interviews with NewsDay, villagers felt the compensation was not enough for the psychological and physical trauma they endured.
AFZ spokesperson Wing Commander Donovan Muroyiwa said: “I will release a statement soon.”
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said he was not aware of the incident.
Another victim, Gift Murombedzi reported the matter on Wednesday under RRB 5063829 at Chegutu Police Station.
On several occasions since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over power from the late former President Robert Mugabe through a coup in 2017, members of the security services have been accused of assaulting, torturing, harassing and unlawfully detaining civilians over flimsy charges.
In January 2019, police and the military also launched a massive crackdown against ordinary citizens following a civil unrest triggered by fuel price hike protests.
Local human rights lawyers said continued victimisation of citizens by members of the security services was worrisome.
“The soldiers should be held accountable for what they have done. It is crucial for the government to implement the recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission especially as we are heading towards the 2023 elections. We can’t continue to see loss of lives and rights violations like what happened in the aftermath of the 2018 elections,” Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum programmes co-ordinator Wilbert Mandinde said.
Human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama added that just like every citizen, soldiers should be prosecuted if they break the law.
“But we have seen military officers taking the law into their hands and victimising civilians who offend them and they have not been prosecuted. The question now is: Who will guard the guard?” Muchadehama said.
Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri was not picking calls.
The Chegutu villagers have implored on authorities to intervene to protect them from further victimisation.