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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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I Had Never Voted

I started to feel the country was ruined. Things got very expensive and inflation grew. In 2002, there was a vote. In Zimbabwe, on the day of elections, every policeman must vote in his senior officer’s office. They would say, Put your X here, on Zanu-PF. You were forced to vote for Zanu-PF whether you liked it or not. The police, the prison services, the army. Everyone comes in and they tick off all your names, that so and so has voted for the proper party. But on this day, with voting in the senior officer’s office, I said to myself, No, I’m not going to go there.

I had never voted in my life. This was the first and only time I would do it. So on that election day, I said I was sick. And I went out the back door of my house, and through a side gate. I snuck away and went to vote with the civilian population, at a school called Fairbridge Primary School. There were lots of people there. This was the first time for the MDC to be in an election, and everyone wanted to vote. I joined the queue and waited two hours. At the police station, you had to put your X down under the watchful eye of the commander. But at the civilian polling station, you went by yourself into the polling booth and put your X on your ballot paper. When you left, someone else registered your ballot paper so it was anonymous. I voted for the MDC. When I marked that paper, I felt like I was getting my revenge on Mugabe. It felt good.

I decided to quit, but soon after these CIO guys came into my house. I was so angry, I beat them. The following night, I was walking home when four of them of a car and stuffed a piece of cloth into my mouth so I wouldn’t scream. They knew I could fight, so there were plenty of them. They were using sticks, rubber batons, everything. I should have died, they gave me such a very hard beating. Then they took off my trousers and they cut me up. They cut my genitals to pieces. I tried—I tried to fight back. But I lost consciousness.

I don’t know how these guys knew I was still alive, but they came to the hospital and told the doctors not to treat me. The nurses only gave me painkillers. They said they’ve got orders. And when I was in hospital, these guys came back. I was in a big ward full of beds, sort of an emergency ward for people who are very sick. They came to me and said, This time we will finish you off. After two days I discharged myself.

I left for South Africa on December 2004. It took me time to get treatment, because I had never been to South Africa and I didn’t know how to go about things. I was taking life as it came every day. One day I went to the Roman Catholic Church in Orange Farm, and a priest gave me some money and referred me to a place called the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Johannesburg. When I got there, things started going better. They gave me money and they took me to the hospital. My first surgery cost a lot of money—R32,000,10 South African currency. Some people teamed up and paid for it. The doctor who saw me was horrified. Then he said he was going to do reconstructive surgery. He told me, “Of course, you will never be the same again.”

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