Silvanos Mudzova was just a popular theatre producer in Zimbabwe’s vibrant arts scene until three months ago when street protests erupted against long serving President Robert Mugabe.
Mr Mudzova, has a number of politically charged plays under his belt that have landed him in trouble with the police over the years, but nothing had prepared him for an abduction by suspected supporters of the under fire veteran ruler at gunpoint.
On September 13, the artiste was dragged from his Harare home by unknown men who took him to a bush where they applied electric shocks to his toes and genitals.
He was also reportedly injected with an unknown substance and left for dead by the roadside outside the capital.
Mr Mudzova’s crime was that he is a member of one of the leading protest movements that have emerged in Zimbabwe this year, calling for President Mugabe to resign.
The actor and playwright, a member of Tajamuku (We Have Rebelled) group, was admitted to a Harare hospital with various injuries.
“My stomach developed some challenges (as a result of the torture) and they (doctors) want to sort it out,” read his last post on Facebook on September 18.
“Remain strong and continue fighting for freedom. Hunger is pushing us and they can’t stop us now.”
Mr Joshua Nkomo. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
After three months of relentless protests against his rule, President Mugabe was fighting back with hundreds of political prisoners now languishing in the country’s jails after they were arrested during many demonstrations that have rocked Harare in recent months.
Several other activists who have been leading daily protests against the failure by the 92-year-old leader’s government to revive a comatose economy have been left nursing severe injuries after being tortured by police while in custody.
On September 17, opposition activists tried to defy a police ban on protests in Harare, inviting a backlash from the law enforcement agents.
Three women arrested during the latest wave of protests revealed shocking wounds on their backsides during a court appearance.
The opposition activists said they were tortured while in police custody.
Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), accused President Mugabe’s government of copying Islamic State (ISIS) tactics to silence dissenters.
“The level of brutality, callousness and barbarism that has been recently exhibited by the Zanu-PF thugs in police uniform will certainly make ISIS green with envy,” MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said, as he condemned police brutality during the protests.
A banana republic
“Zimbabwe is now a police state,” the MDC added in a statement condemning the abduction and torture of Mr Mudzova.
“We would like to see the perpetrators of this heinous crime promptly arrested and prosecuted,” the party said.
“The thugs and hoodlums who abducted and tortured (Mr) Mudzova are members of the Zanu-PF regime’s security apparatus.
“We cannot allow our beloved country to degenerate into a banana republic that is run by an intolerant, heartless, cruel and corrupt mafia.”
The opposition parties say besides police brutality during demonstrations, state security agents were raiding their supporters’ homes and abducting those suspected to be in the forefront of the protests.
Zanu-PF has been accused of reviving its youth militia, which was now targeting President Mugabe’s critics.
“The MDC has established irrefutable evidence that thousands of Zanu-PF thugs and hoodlums, employed as so-called youth officers throughout the country, are actually being given police uniforms so that they masquerade as duly attested members of the force,” Mr Gutu said.
Zimbabwean artiste and playwright Silvanos Mudzova at a Harare hospital after he was abducted and tortured by suspected supporters of President Robert Mugabe. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
“Political activists and thousands of non-political activists were thuggishly rounded up, arrested and severely tortured. Even Members of Parliament were not spared this state-sponsored orgy of violence, banditry and thuggery.
“To all intents and purposes, therefore, the bankrupt and clueless Zanu-PF regime has since imposed a de-factostate of emergency throughout the country.”
Women activists claimed some people arrested during the demonstrations had been raped while in police custody.
Justice for Women, an organisation advocating the rights of women and girls, said it had recorded several cases of abuse by police since the protests began.
“Women are being exposed to physical and psychological abuse,” the organisation’s spokesperson Coezette Chirinda told journalists in Harare.
“They are assaulted and raped. The State is at the centre of these violations and in fact the abuse of these women is State sponsored and must stop forthwith.”
Ms Chirinda claimed female activists were stripped naked and assaulted while in detention.
“Mandova Manezhu was arrested and jailed soon after one of the demonstrations in Harare, leaving a three-year-old baby,” she alleged.
President Mugabe has always reacted with deadly force whenever his tight grip on power was being threatened.
Soon after independence, he deployed a North Korean trained special army unit to south-western Zimbabwe to crush a rival liberation movement led by the Vice-President Joshua Nkomo.
Human rights activists claim that 20,000 civilians, mainly Zapu supporters, were killed during the military campaign that only ended when Mr Nkomo agreed to join his rival’s Zanu-PF in 1987.
The veteran ruler described the crackdown as a ‘moment of madness’ but has refused to apologise for the atrocities.
In 2008, after losing the first round of the presidential elections to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, President Mugabe unleashed former liberation war fighters and a Zanu-PF youth militia leading to the death of hundreds of opposition supporters.
Mr Tsvangirai was subsequently forced to pull out of the run-off election, citing violence against his supporters.
The former liberation war fighters early this year said they were withdrawing their support to one of Africa’s oldest rulers, saying he had ‘genocidal tendencies’.
Use the law
President Mugabe has also tried to use the law to silence his critics with his government announcing that Zimbabweans who abuse the national flag during protests would now be prosecuted.
The national flag has become a rallying symbol for protesters seeking to push the veteran ruler out of power after a Harare Pastor Evan Mwarire started a social media movement known as #ThisFlag to protest Zimbabwe’s collapse.
Pastor Mwarire was now in self-imposed exile in the US after the government tried to charge him with treason for leading one of the biggest strikes in July, dubbed ‘Shutdown Zimbabwe’.
Legal experts have dismissed the ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of replicas of the national flag as unconstitutional.
“Section 134 (b) of the constitution prohibits subsidiary legislation from limiting or infringing upon rights set out in the Declaration of Rights,” said constitutional expert Alex Magaisa.
“Since the regulations under which the government is acting upon limit the right to dignity, freedom of expression, right to liberty and right to protection of the law, they go beyond section 134 (b) and are, therefore, unconstitutional.
“The legislation imposes more restrictions on freedom of expression than necessary to achieve the purpose of protecting the national flag.
“This is evident in the vagueness and ambiguity of the offences and penalties imposed under the legislation.”
Opposition parties and civil society groups are also challenging the ban on demonstrations in court.
Meanwhile, Zimbabweans were taking the fight against President Mugabe to the international front. Several protesters led by Pastor Mawarire staged demonstrations against him during his visit to New York last week.
The activists were also targeting the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, warning the institutions that giving the Zimbabwean government any money would be misconstrued for an approval of the alleged human rights violations by Harare.
Opposition parties have vowed to intensify their protests until the government agrees to hold free and fair elections.
President Mugabe has refused to step down despite ruling Zimbabwe for 36 years and wants to contest for another term in elections due in 2018.