News in depth BY OBEY MANAYITI
A brutal attack by soldiers during the January 14 protests against steep fuel price increases has ruined the life of a 38-year-old Chitungwiza man, who is struggling to heal and his relatives fear he might be losing his mind because of the savage beatings.
Philemon Mutoko* said he was walking home around 9pm when the heavily-armed soldiers descended on him like a tonne of bricks and up to now he has no idea what crime he committed to invite the full might of the security forces.
Mutoko says he is now living in fear and in serious pain but has no money to seek proper treatment.
He often hallucinates and shouts on top of his voice claiming he would be seeing heavily- armed soldiers who want to finish him off.
During the panic attacks, Mutoko would be groaning and trying to bolt out of the house, but his poor health fails him.
He often broke down and hallucinated during the interview where he narrated his ordeal at the hands of the ruthless soldiers.
“I was close to my house at around 9pm when I met a group of soldiers who ordered me to lie down,” he said while fighting off tears.
“They said I was part of a group that was insulting them during the afternoon.
“I tried to plead my innocence, but they were not interested in what I was saying and they started hitting me on the head. I screamed for help, but the moment I did that, they intensified the beatings.
“I tried to flee, but I met another group of soldiers who started assaulting me again. The ones who beat me first caught up with me and joined in the assault. I couldn’t do anything.”
Mutoko said after the incident he spent about four days at his house without receiving any medical attention.
When he finally gathered the courage to venture out of the house, he went to a local clinic where his wounds were treated.
However, his church mates were not impressed by the treatment he received at the clinic and encouraged him to go to Chitungwiza Central Hospital where he was only able to buy pain killers.
Mutoko does not have money for X-rays and a scan to determine the extent of his head injuries.
“I didn’t participate in anything that they were accusing me of,” he added.
“Now my life is miserable and I cannot work for my two wives and three children.
“I am always in pain and ‘see’ the soldiers coming for me. They said they would come back for me and I always have visions of them even when I am sleeping. I have no peace at all.”
Doctors recommended that the man should be treated by a clinical psychologist, but he has no money to pay for the services.
One of Mutoko’s wives said they feared he was losing his mind due to the savage attack.
She said her husband wails in the dead of the night, saying he was seeing the soldiers that assaulted him.
“How could soldiers be moving around and assaulting anyone that they meet? I think they must take responsibility for this problem that we have,” she said. “They must at least pay for his medication.”
Mutoko is one of hundreds of people brutalised by the army during the crackdown that followed the three-day stayaway called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and #ThisFlag movement to protest against the deteriorating economic situation in the country.
A report released by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum last Friday said 17 cases of extra-judiciary killings allegedly committed by the army had been recorded so far.
The NGOs said they had documented at least 1 803 violations committed since January 14 by the security forces across the country.
They include at least 17 cases of rape or other violations of a sexual nature, 26 abductions, 61 displacements, 81 assaults consistent with gunshot attacks, at least 586 assaults and torture, inhuman and degrading treatment including dog bites, 954 arrests and detention (including dragnet arrests), among other violations.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has repeatedly denied that soldiers were behind the violations, but the president promised to bring the perpetrators to book after Britain’s Sky TV recorded two police officers and a soldier brutalising a suspect during the protests.
The government blames the MDC Alliance for the violence that erupted during the stayaway and claims that protesters stole guns at police armouries, which they were using to kill people.
The military said it used force proportionate to the level of the threat posed by the protesters, where 165 shops were looted countrywide, an assertion challenged by the NGO Forum report.
“The violations are systematic, unleashed mainly by male perpetrators whom the victims identified as wearing either military or police attire, armed with AK rifles and or baton sticks, travelling in army and police vehicles,” the report says.
“The targets of attack were initially the male population in highdensity suburbs, but later became indiscriminate to include women and young girls.”
The NGOs said they had started the process of pursuing justice and accountability for the victims and so far at least 24 letters of demand had been issued claiming about US$1 200 000 from the perpetrators.
They urged the government to establish an independent complaints mechanism in line with section 210 of the constitution that is designed to receive and investigate complaints against the security services and accused the State media of abetting the rights violations.
“The Forum calls upon the state media that is funded by the taxpayer, to stop its current propaganda that is fuelling state violence and fanning hostilities in violation of the founding values of the constitution of Zimbabwe and the values of peace journalism,” the report added.
“The state media must do its work responsibly in service of the nation and not be used in pursuit of a partisan parochial political agenda.”
A fortnight ago, the government reacted angrily to a report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission that accused the security forces of gross human rights violations.
Human Rights Watch’ southern African director Dewa Mavhinga said Mnangagwa’s government must investigate the cases involving the army and ensure justice for the victims.
“All cases of people with physical and psychological injuries from the security forces crackdown on the January protests must be treated with utmost urgency by the government,” he said.
“President Mnangagwa should, through the minister of Health, issue an open public invitation from all such people to go to the nearest hospital or clinic for urgent medical support on the government’s account.
“A government that cares about its citizens will not look aside in the face of such a catastrophe, it steps in to help.”
On August 1, soldiers killed at six people in Harare after they opened fire on protesters that were demonstrating against what they said were delays in the release of presidential election results.
A commission appointed by Mnangagwa to investigate the killings, which was led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, last December recommended that soldiers and police officers behind the killings must be prosecuted.