By Nyasha Chingono
It is a harrowing experience that still haunts her 11 years on. Like a horror movie, it plays back each time Jestina Mukoko hears of another abduction case.
The wounds never heal, she says.
She is overly conscious about her surroundings and is always uncomfortable in unfamiliar environs.
These are the effects of the traumatic ordeal that the journalist-turned-human rights activist suffered at the hands of former president Robert Mugabe’s henchmen.
Mukoko still lives in fear, more than a decade after she was abducted and tortured only to reappear in police custody after 22 days.
“I get afraid if I see people who I feel uncomfortable around and when I recognise some action that is strange. I have become very observant,” Mukoko told the Zimbabwe Independent.
“What these abductions do? They make me walk that journey again. I go back to December 2008. When Itai Dzamara was abducted I went through the same process and I regressed in terms of my healing. When ( Hospital Doctors’ Association) Peter Magombeyi disappeared, I was really getting worried and I also had started walking the journey again.”
An unlikely target of the state at that time, Mukoko recounts how six unidentified men stormed into her Norton home at 5am on December 3, 2008.
She was only wearing a night dress at the time of abduction.
When she asked to dress up and fetch her glasses, two of the men grabbed her, dragged her out of the house and bundled her into the back of an unmarked car, which sped off soon after.
“I didn’t see myself as a threat to the government to warrant any abduction. I was forcibly removed from my home in Norton in the early hours of the morning. They came in at 5 in the morning and they force-marched me to a car that was parked outside the gate. It had no number plates.
There were about six people who came into my house. All the six people did not get into the car that I was in, which meant there were other cars. I was made to seat flanked by two men in the backseat. I was told to then put my head on the lap of the man who was on my right. As I was taking my head down, I saw a gun – I believe it was an Ak47,” Mukoko said.
They drove her for a little over half an hour in what she believes was the direction towards Harare.
Mukoko was taken into a room but could not see anything as she was blindfolded. The men asked her about Zimbabwe Peace project (ZPP) before the conversation took another twist.
They alleged that she was recruiting youths for military training together with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in Botswana.
Mukoko remembers vividly how six men beat her with truncheons with wire as the torture continued into the night.
“It was on that day that I was tortured days on end. I was being asked about MDC members and some politicians I have never met. They were asking me about people in security in the MDC. Every time I said no I would get a beating on the soles of my feet. Every time I said no, I would get a thorough beating.
Two men were alternating, using truncheons which were about a metre long. One of the truncheons had a wire inside. It was the most painful. The other one was just a hosepipe where a lot of pressure had to be applied. But at the end of the day I couldn’t recognise the soles of my feet because they were swollen. I couldn’t even walk properly,” Mukoko said.
After five days, the abductors bundled her into a kombi and drove for hours, threatening to hand her over to their “boss”.
“I was abducted I was made to kneel on gravel. They warned me saying the last person we made to do this actually messed themselves up. I’m not surprised that it happened that way. I got numb from the pain. Somehow I saw my body leave. That’s what the pain did to me,” Mukoko recounted.For two days she was shuffled from one police station to another before she reappeared at Mbare police station.
“The instruction was they would not allow anyone to see us, be it a lawyer or family,” Although government paid damages amounting to US$150 000 for torture and forced disappearance, Mukoko believes human rights defenders were unsafe.
Civil society groups say more than 50 people have been abducted since the beginning of the year while there has been a spiralling of the security clampdown on civil liberties since last year’s election.
Recent abduction cases involving Magombeyi, who disappeared on September 14 and was dumped in Nyabira after five days, has rattled human rights defenders amid a spate of abductions.
Magombeyi was allegedly abducted by unknown assailants a fortnight ago at his home in Budiriro, Harare. The government blamed a “third force” for the disappearance that happened after the 26-year old medical practitioner led a strike against poor salaries.
While blaming a “third force”, government also alleges that the abductions were stage-managed to tarnish the image of the country.
Mukoko said government should deal with the “third force”.
“My worry with the issue of the third force is why they are being protected. If this is the work of the third force why is there a rush to then to trivialise these accusations. That third force, if it is stabilising and causing insecurity of citizens it is the role of the state to ensure that citizens are guaranteed their security. They say it’s the third force and also quick to say it’s fake.
Why not analyse to the end and see what this third force has done,” she said.Among the recent cases of abduction is the widely condemned kidnapping and assault of comedian Samantha Kureya (famously known as Gonyeti) who was in August seized at gunpoint, stripped naked and assaulted before she was made to drink raw sewerage.
Other abduction cases include Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure, who was kidnapped by assailants wearing black masks and armed with AK47 rifles and pistols in June. He was later dumped in a bushy area near Manyame Airbase.Zimbabwe has a long history of abductions and torture that predate the country’s Independence.