HARARE — Things were supposed to be different in Zimbabwe after its former strongman ruler, Robert Mugabe, was deposed in a bloodless coup in 2017.
But once again, people in the southern African country are living in fear after enduring the worst state violence in over a decade, which left at least 12 people dead, hundreds more injured and over 1,000 detained.
For many, hope of a bright future has already been shattered.
Signs of disappointment in the state could be seen in December, when small scale demonstrations over stagnant wages began. The protests were a reaction to crippling inflation rates, which had reached a 10-year high, and the toll it was taking on everyday Zimbabweans.
But it was President Emmerson Mnungagwa’s decision to raise the price of fuel by 150 percent, that brought thousands onto the streets.
Overnight, Zimbabwe became one of the most expensive places in the world to buy fuel, and the people were letting the government know how they felt about it — some set fire to tires in the road and others were caught looting.
The state responded with brutal force. The government shutdown the internet, and deployed soldiers and youth militia from the ruling party, Zanu-PF, who went town to town, street to street, door to door, beating men, women and children.
One victim, who was shot inside his home, said he believed the group who attacked him were out to kill.
“Some them were wearing soldiers’ uniform, some of them in plain attire,” said Precious Gono. He said he didn’t take part in any demonstrations and struggles to understand why he was targeted.
Other victims describe a similar pattern of uniformed soldiers working alongside groups of men who they believe to be activists from Zanu-PF. One man had his foot broken before being beaten over the head with a metal bar, another had his arm shattered.
The government-appointed Zimbabwe Commission for Human Rights was quick to condemn abuse, accusing soldiers’ of using “systematic torture” against the public.
ecause the the initial crackdown took place under the cover of a total internet shutdown, only now is the scale of what took place beginning to emerge. Scores of women and girls have come forward to say they were raped by men wearing army uniforms during the crackdown.
The government has vowed to investigate widespread allegations of abuse, saying “it doesn’t matter whether you are security forces, if there are rogues among our people who are perpetrating violence against the people of this country, they will be punished.”
But activists and everyday Zimbabweans, still fresh with memory of Mugabe’s rule, worry a culture of impunity among the ruling party has already solidified.
“Terror is in charge. Violence is in charge. Tyranny is in charge. Dictatorship is in charge,” opposition leader Nelson Chamisa told Vice News.
“If they can’t change, they have to be out of the way,” he said.