By Staff Reporter
WHEN Manicaland Development Association (MDA), a Zimbabwean non-governmental organisation, came up with the idea of establishing a skills training centre at Biriiri Business Centre in Chimanimani during the early 80s, there was jubilation among the locals, little did they know that one day the centre would be a curse.
Indeed, true to the villagers’ expectations, the training centre did enhance socio-economic development in this area inhabited by the Ndau people.
A lot of villagers benefited immensely from skills development programmes offered by the training centre in areas such as cattle rearing, borehole maintenance, basketry, farming and bee keeping, among other skills.
The organisation wrapped up its activities in the area in the late 90s after fulfilling its mandate, leaving the centre in the custody of the locals.
The good intentions and achievements of the centre were, however, marred during the build up to the controversial Presidential run-off elections in June, 2008 when it was converted into a Zanu PF campaign base, where real and perceived adversaries were brutally tortured.
This is the place where scores of MDC supporters were tortured and maimed by war veterans and Zanu PF youths.
About two people in the area are said to have died as a result of the torture, while scores of other villagers sustained varying degrees of injuries.
This is also the same place where struggling rural entrepreneurs and villagers lost their goods and livestock to the marauding youths, who grabbed whatever they needed to use to facilitate their heinous operations.
The locals and most of the victims still have fresh and chilling memories of what suspected MDC supporters went through at this place, located a stone’s throw away from the Mutare –Chimanimani Highway.
As the 2023 harmonised elections approach, villagers in the area are fretting over the possibility of violence riddled polls.
Their fears are being informed by the apparently growing support of the Nelson Chamisa led Citizens for Coalition Change (CCC) in not only in the area, but in the entire Manicaland Province at large.
“I am not going back on my support for the opposition. Last time I went through hell on earth at the MDA centre. Zanu PF youths raided my homestead early in the morning and took me to the centre, where I was detained for two days,” recalled Itai Muusha, one of the victims.
“In a crouching position, I was forced to insert my head into a disused tyre while the youths took turns to hit my buttocks with sticks and logs in the traumatising and humiliating episodes. The beatings were so severe that I was bed ridden for almost a week after my release from the base.”
Muusha said some of the youths, who are his relatives, have been clandestinely sending emissaries to ask for forgiveness, but he said he will never forgive them.
“We cannot talk of forgiveness when there is no justice. These people should just be arrested and brought before the courts for their crimes” he said.
Another victim, who only identified himself as Nomala, said he was also force marched to the base by the youths.
“A dozen youths armed with an assortment of weapons stormed my homestead on a Sunday morning. They took me, whilst I was naked, to the centre, where they severely assaulted me. As a result of the beatings, my left hand was fractured” narrated Nomala.
Both Nomala and Muusha said following the ordeal which they went through at the centre, they have been emboldened.
“We have now developed a thick skin. This time around if they try to beat us we are not going to watch while they bash us,” said Nomala.
According to the victims, the youths kept a register of all suspected opposition supporters in the area and every morning, their leaders, led by one lady identified as Mafaone and a retired soldier, Lovemore Utseya, would assign the drunken youths to abduct targeted suspects.
Utseya is currently Zanu PF ward 17 councilor. The victims also cited a retired Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) colonel, Charles Muresherwa, as the person who was the “commander“ of the base.
The youths’ daily routine also included raiding local shops, grinding mills and homesteads for food which was consumed at the base.
“Every morning we were forced to donate groceries such as bread and drinks to the youths. Bottle store operators were forced to donate both clear and opaque beer. Some of the youths even followed us to our homes after working hours each time they ran out of supplies,” said a businessman who also refused to be named for fear of victimisation.
The abductees were first taken to an interrogation room, which was manned by war veterans and senior Zanu (PF) district officials.
After being subjected to severe interrogation, the victims would be taken to another room, where they were either cleared or further detained.
Others were subjected to less severe punishments such as rolling in the mud.
Those “convicted” of serious cases would be detained for several days, during which they were severely tortured before being released and warned never again to support the “western sponsored” MDC.
Four of the Zanu PF activists accused of spearheading political violence in the area (names supplied) have since died under mysterious circumstances. The headman who was presiding over the beatings also died last year.
Before his death, one of the accused‘s stomach had ballooned under mysterious circumstances, while another had developed a deadly tumour on his left cheek. The other one died at her homestead after a long illness.
The deaths have become the talk of the area, with some villagers suggesting they are related to avenging spirits of the tortured victims.
“The trio tortured a lot of MDC supporters in the area during the election period. I remember during that time there was a traditional healer by the name Gorimbo whom they thoroughly assaulted at the base after accusing him of being an MDC supporter. While in agony, Gorimbo warned the Zanu PF youths that one day their past nefarious activities would catch up with them,” said another villager who was also tortured at the same base with the traditional healer.
Sources in the area said the funerals of the activists were largely ignored by the villagers.
Some of the Zanu PF activists who were in the forefront of torturing MDC supporters at the base are said to have also developed mental disorders.