Survivors Of Past Political Violence Will Monitor This Year's Elections In Zimbabwe

Jul 19, 2018
Originally published on July 19, 2018 7:33 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Weston Katiyo is 75 years old. He walks with a cane. And everywhere he goes, he carries a thick, worn folder full of laminated pages.

I see you're going through this notebook with all of the documents of what you experienced.

WESTON KATIYO: When I go on a journey, I must take them.

SHAPIRO: When you go on a journey you must take them.

KATIYO: I must take them because when someone died, my case is known by everybody.

SHAPIRO: If Weston Katiyo dies suspiciously, he wants everyone to know his story. One document in this folder is a medical record showing a total replacement of his left knee. Another is a newspaper article describing a court case about Katiyo's abduction and torture. That happened 10 years ago, just before Zimbabwe's presidential runoff election.

KATIYO: That was taken to June, 2008.

SHAPIRO: Katiyo supported the minority party that challenged longtime dictator Robert Mugabe. And in his village, he says more than a dozen Mugabe supporters came to his house.

KATIYO: They start to beat me. Then I know they were going to kill me. Then I said, please, can you kill me here so that my children can find me?

SHAPIRO: Can you kill me here so my children can find me? The mob wouldn't grant his wish. They took him to a building where they tortured him for three days. He says the other captives in the building died. Katiyo somehow lived. The only accusation against him was that he voted for the wrong guy.

In 2008, thousands of opposition supporters in Zimbabwe had similar experiences. Reporting at the time showed that a top government official named Emmerson Mnangagwa helped to orchestrate the violence. And today, he's the man in charge of Zimbabwe. And national elections are taking place again a week from Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT EMMERSON MNANGAGWA: We don't need any violence at all - unity, love and peace.

SHAPIRO: That's President Emmerson Mnangagwa. For the decades that Robert Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa was an enforcer and fixer. In November, the military forced Mugabe out and put Mnangagwa in power. Now the new president says he's running a different kind of government. At this election rally in the city of Bulawayo, Mnangagwa rejected corruption and violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MNANGAGWA: We have seen our elections are transparent, are fair and credible. Anyone who wants to come and observe our elections must come and observe.

SHAPIRO: People generally agree that Mnangagwa is saying the right things these days, but his role in past election violence makes it hard for many people to trust that message of peace.

FRANCES LOVEMORE: People are expressing a lot of anxiety about things that have changed in their communities if they see a soldier or if they see a change of activity.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Frances Lovemore runs Counselling Services Unit, an organization in Harare that works with survivors of torture and political violence. She says the clients she's working with are nervous that the past will repeat itself.

LOVEMORE: And the perpetrators are their representatives in Parliament. Their perpetrators are the local police or the local military. It's a wide range of perpetrators that are involved in the actual physical repression of people.

SHAPIRO: And in the last few weeks, her organization has seen an increase in threats and violence. So people have reason not to trust that this will be a free and fair election. But the survivors of past violence are not just huddling in their houses with the blinds pulled, waiting for election day to pass.

Counselling Services Unit has trained thousands of people, including torture victims, to watch their local polls on July 30. There's a phone bank for them to report violence or vote rigging. Seventy-five-year-old Weston Katiyo who we met earlier will be watching his local polling station. And 37-year-old Florence Machinga will be watching hers. She took me to her polling place at a school far out in Zimbabwe's countryside. On election day, she'll have to walk more than a mile to get here from her home.

FLORENCE MACHINGA: We might disappear on the way.

SHAPIRO: You're laughing about it, but that sounds horrific.

MACHINGA: (Laughing) Yeah, it's too far.

SHAPIRO: Abduction isn't a far-fetched scenario. When we leave the polling place, Florence Machinga shows us her family home which she has been slowly rebuilding.

MACHINGA: We are in the process of removing the old floors. You see the coat cracks.

SHAPIRO: In 2008, a mob firebombed everything here to punish Machinga for running for office with the opposition party.

MACHINGA: They destroyed everything. Cattle were slaughtered. The chickens were slaughtered.

SHAPIRO: The cattle and chickens were like the family's savings account. This was everything they had. Machinga says the mob wanted to kill them, but they hid in the bush. They were homeless after that and struggled to find food. They fled to the capital, Harare, and shuffled between safe houses for months. Her older sister who was HIV positive died, leaving behind three children.

Do you have any photographs of her?

MACHINGA: Photographs - they were burned - no, don't have. Everything was destroyed.

SHAPIRO: Nobody in the community would help her rebuild. She says some of her relatives were among the attackers.

So I see there are some buildings over there. Do you have neighbors?

MACHINGA: Yes, they are part of the perpetrators.

SHAPIRO: You live right next to the people who did this.

MACHINGA: Yes, yes.

SHAPIRO: Once people know they can be killed for supporting the wrong party, that threat hangs in the air even if nobody makes it explicit. And since there has been no serious accounting for what happened 10 years ago, the shadow of past violence looms over this election. But on election day, Florence Machinga will stand at her polling station and look her neighbors and relatives in the eye.

MACHINGA: I will make sure there is peace during the election day and will make sure they won't defeat this election.

SHAPIRO: And if people threaten you...

MACHINGA: I'm not feeling of any intimidation.

SHAPIRO: Why not?

MACHINGA: I am brave enough (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Tomorrow, the music of political transformation in Zimbabwe from independence to today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATCH OUT")

WELLS FARGO: (Singing) Watch out; big storm is coming. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.