The establishment of so-called “safe houses” for alleged victims of rape following last month’s violent protests was part of a political campaign to beam negative images of Zimbabwe to the world by hostile local and foreign media, investigations by The Herald have established.
Some named non-governmental organisations (NGOs) coordinated women who claimed to have been brutalised and housed them for television cameras in a scheme to publish reprehensible images of systematic abuse across the world.
The aim was to put Zimbabwe under the spotlight ahead of international forums such as the African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and forthcoming meetings of the European Union (EU)to review sanctions against Zimbabwe.
The Commonwealth, a grouping of former British colonies, is also set to meet to review the possibility of Zimbabwe rejoining the club. The larger plot is to scuttle Zimbabwe’s re-engagement process, which President Mnangagwa has made as one of his key foreign policy thrusts.
The “safe houses” were set up in areas like Milton Park, Belvedere and other places in Harare to facilitate interviews for foreign media journalists and some local private media, after which they were disbanded.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces instituted investigations and also invited victims to report through the Victim Friendly Units. The authorities urged the administrators of the so-called “safe houses” to facilitate access to justice for the purported victims.
Additionally, two independent anti-abuse organisations — Musasa Project and Adult Rape Clinic — joined in to facilitate the opening up of the supposed systematic abuse.
However, to date, no indications of a widespread systematic assault on human rights have been established, although police are investigating sporadic issues believed to be perpetrated by rogue members of the security forces and some imposters.
During our investigations, at one of the houses, The Herald was ushered in by a woman who claimed that their organisation was into water and sanitation programmes mainly in Mashonaland West.
Purported victims at the other safe house were said to have been transferred to another undisclosed location.
“What’s worrying about these allegations is the number of women being said to have been raped — all of whom are being kept in safe houses.
“How come none of them, not even a single one, out of the 17, has made a police report? The fact that they have all chosen to take a similar position against the way cases are handled by the police leaves a lot to be desired,” said a source close to the happenings.
“With such a huge number, and considering that the demonstrations affected everyone regardless of one’s political affiliation, we would have expected at least one woman to have made a report to the police at least by now, ” added the source.
Another Harare woman also expressed dissatisfaction at the manner at which the said organisations which are providing safe havens for the supposed victims are handling the whole issue.
“We expect these organisations not only to accommodate and counsel the victims but also to facilitate for justice to take its course so that perpetrators are brought to book. They are the same organisations who preach that justice delayed is justice denied, so why do they continue keeping these women a secret. Are they also afraid of the police? If so, then they are not serving a purpose,” said the woman who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Zimbabwe Gender Commission chief executive Mrs Virginia Muwanigwa said her commission was still conducting investigations on the allegations.
She said they have not yet received any reports from individuals with such claims but had reports from some organisations, who are claiming to be housing these women.
“We are still investigating the cases and we continue appealing to individual women who might have fallen victim to come forward. Our position is that, if it happened, it is not right. Whether it was one case or many cases, still it wasn’t right,” said Mrs Muwanigwa.
Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission deputy chairperson, Dr Sithole also said no case had been reported to her organisation to date referring this reporter to the Gender Commission.
“The Gender Commission might be in a better position to comment on that issue because it falls within their mandate but from our Commission, I am not aware of any case before us involving rape,” she said.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) have on several occasions pleaded with victims of rape to come forward so that perpetrators are brought to book.