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Hope Deferred: Life Under Zimbabwe's Cruel Dictator

Zenzele, a Zimbabwean refugee, recounts his personal experience with the horrors of Mugabe's reign.

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You Must Sing Praises to Robert Mugabe

I finished high school in 1983, and then I started teaching in the rural areas. Soldiers used to make us sing during the night. They called them pungwes. It’s Shona for “an all-night party.” If you didn’t go, they would find you and say, “You must sing praises to Robert Mugabe.” These parties were out in the forest, in the bush, under the trees. There would be a big fire and they’d be holding their rifles and dancing and jumping up and down. And you were expected to dance too. Sometimes I danced because I knew that if I didn’t, they would kill me, these guys.

Even children had to go to these pungwes. After the meeting, the soldiers would take all the girls who were old enough to have sex, and rape them. Some were my students. They would come into the class the next day and fall asleep because they’d been abused the whole night.

No One Was Going To Harass Me

I joined the police in 1987. I was sick of being at the mercy of these so-called security forces. In the police, no one was going to harass me. I spent one year in training, six months at law school studying what is called “law and police,” and then another six months in counterinsurgence, COIN training. The whole time I was a police officer, we lived together in police camps because we were supposed to work as a unit, not on our own.

I worked in Rusape from 1988 to 1998. I met my wife there. Rusape is a big farming area. I was there about the time they were starting the farm takeovers. I knew some of these white farmers, because we used to go to those farms to buy goats or cattle to slaughter for meat in our police camp. Their land was given away to Mugabe’s supporters. They would just tell these farm invaders to go and settle on that land. If the farmer tried to throw them out, they would beat up that farmer or arrest him, or even murder him. Some of these farmers were making reports to us that there were people settling illegally on their farms, but we were told to do nothing about it. It was sad to see these hordes of misinformed Mugabe supporters, cutting down trees, killing wild animals, and generally laying all the land to waste.

Green Bombers

In 1998 I left Rusape and went to Bulawayo. Those were the days when a newspaper called the Daily News was still publishing. Members of the police were prohibited from reading that paper. They said, You can’t read this paper, because it speaks badly about Mugabe. They meant that it was anti-government. I used to buy it in the city, hide it in my underpants, tuck my shirt in, and go into my housing camp and read it. After I read it, I would give it to some friends.

Morgan Tsvangirai appeared on the political scene before the constitutional referendum in 2000. Mugabe wanted to turn Zimbabwe into a one-party state, but people said no. The Movement for Democratic Change, the MDC, was newly formed. People said Mugabe lost in that election, and he was very angry. I was working at a place called Binga, a very small town on Lake Kariba, near the border with Zambia. Mugabe sent youth militias called the Green Bombers there because he had lost the election in the Binga constituency. They are called the Green Bombers because of their green uniforms." At every constituency Mugabe lost, a reign of terror, including murders, tortures, and maimings, would follow. The Green Bombers are very destructive. They are young people—some as young as sixteen, seventeen, some are school dropouts—trained to beat up those who are opposed to Zanu-PF during election times.

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