Originally published in Vatican News
The abduction and torture of three female opposition leaders by some unknown people in Zimbabwe has raised a wave of condemnations and calls for investigations into abductions and disappearances.
Three female leaders, members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change–Alliance (MDC-Alliance), were allegedly abducted in Harare by some unknown men last week on Wednesday. They had first been arrested at a roadblock.
Abducted and tortured
The three women were later found on Friday severely beaten and traumatised. They had been dumped by the roadside some 80 kilometres north of Harare in Zimbabwe.
The opposition leaders were part of an MDC-Alliance COVID-19 demonstration that the government termed illegal. The three, Joana Mamombe (MP for Harare West), Cecilia Chimbiri (MDC-Alliance Youth Assembly Vice-Chair) and Netsai Marova (Deputy Organising Secretary of the Youth wing) were protesting the government’s COVID-19 lockdown implemented without social protection for the country’s poor.
Christian leaders say attacks offend Christian and cultural norms
In a strongly-worded statement released in the capital Harare this week, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) of which the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) is a part, denounced the abductions of the female MDC leaders. They also drew attention to the brutal assault of two Zimbabwean women in the country’s second-largest city, Bulawayo, on 16 April at the hands of six police officers.
“Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) has received with shock and disbelief the news of yet another abduction and inhumane treatment of three young women including a Member of Parliament. This comes only some few days after the barbaric physical assault of two women, Ntombizodwa and Nokuthula Mpofu, of Cowdray Park, Bulawayo by six police officers.
It should be stated that the reports suggesting that Harare West Legislator, Joana Mamombe and her colleagues Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova were taken from police custody, and were tortured and sexually assaulted and inhumanely treated by yet to be known agents, point to something that is against the heart of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the various International Conventions to which Zimbabwe is a signatory and, above all, to our cultural norms and our fundamental Christian beliefs regarding the sanctity and dignity of life,” said Zimbabwe’s Church leaders.
Need for a full investigation
“First, it is deeply disturbing that the country has seen so many cases of abductions in the last few months, most of which have not been conclusively investigated. What is further disturbing are the insinuations, from some state agents, that all these abductions are either stage-managed or carried out by an unrecognisable “third force” without substantiating such claims with credible and irrefutable evidence. This constitutes the denigration of responsibility of the highest order on the part of government,” said the Church leaders.
ZHOCD has called for a full investigation. They condemn the ill-treatment of women as a whole, particularly “in 2020 when the whole world is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, which was a global high point in recognition of the dignity of women after centuries of patriarchal domination and treatment of women as second class citizens of the world.”
Amnesty International decries disappearances
Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East and Southern Africa, condemned the abduction of the three MDC female politicians.
“Zimbabwe has a history of enforced disappearances, with some activists having gone missing for years now. Many activists have been tortured in police custody, despite denials by police,” said the Amnesty International representative.
Various rights groups say since 2019, about 50 social and political activists have been abducted and tortured by unknown persons. One of 2019’s widely publicised abductions was of Peter Magombeyi, leader of Zimbabwe’s medical doctors, who were agitating for better working conditions. He was taken away by some unknown men, beaten and later dumped by the roadside.
Zimbabwe’s Minister of Home Affairs orders an investigation
Zimbabwe’s Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Minister, Kazembe Kazembe has since ordered the Commissioner-General of Police to institute a full-scale investigation into the abduction of the three female MDC leaders. He said the Commissioner-General should “establish what transpired, who did what, and the motive behind the actions.”
Church leaders pledge continued pastoral care
In the meantime, Zimbabwe’s Church leaders under the auspices of ZHOCD have pledged to continue offering pastoral support, comfort and protection to all victims of abductions and brutality.