Stanlus Marowa’s brief stint as a henchman recruited by local ZANU-PF party leaders is coming back to haunt him since they abandoned him, and he is now facing the wrath of his community and charges of assault and theft.
Marowa, 24, unemployed and living the dormitory town of Chitungwiza, 30km south of the capital, Harare, told IRIN that he had engaged in acts of torture against supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) after the 29 March poll, in which the ruling ZANU-PF party lost its majority in parliament for the first time since independence in 1980 and its leader, Robert Mugabe, came off second best in the presidential poll.
Marowa said he was “conscripted” by ZANU-PF into a youth militia, and was tasked with identifying and torturing MDC supporters in St Mary’s, a suburb of Chitungwiza.
“My victims reported me to the police for beating them up and stealing from their houses and, at that time, I thought that the police, as in the past, would take no action.”
But after Mugabe, as the sole candidate, won the second-round presidential runoff on 29 June, Marowa found things had changed.
“When I asked [ZANU-PF] party leaders in my area to intervene, they told me that they could not protect me since the elections were over and Mugabe had won,” said Marowa, who has appeared in court on charges of housebreaking and assault. “I am now alone, I have been cheated and I don’t think the feeling of guilt that I have now will ever go away.”
The election has been widely condemned, and even the few African observer missions permitted to monitor the poll have declared it not free and fair.
Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African state for 28 years, denied any complicity in election violence. “I instructed them to go and campaign for me, not to beat up people,” he said, and has also blamed the MDC for the violence.
Marowa said he and scores of other youth militia had operated from a base that had since been dismantled; his colleagues, fearing arrest, had fled to rural areas – where political violence is still being reported – to escape prosecution.
“I am now being treated like a leper or murderer [by the community] simply because I was too stupid to know that I was fighting other people’s war on the basis of empty promises.”
He said local ZANU-PF leaders had promised him rewards for his handiwork, such as scholarships to study overseas – even though he failed his exams – or a job in government, if Mugabe was re-elected.
While Marowa has turned to the church for redemption, the victims of political violence said their experiences were too raw to contemplate forgiveness.
“How does it feel to lose a relative, to be maimed or raped and to lose your property, simply for exercising your vote? Why would these militias be so ready to participate in this war of attrition, particularly when they are neighbours?” said Grange Mairos, 68, who lives in St Mary’s suburb.
No forgiveness from victims
“We told them chickens would come back home to roost, and that is what is happening, exactly.” He said he helped his daughter open a case of rape against another member of the militia, “but when reporting, you need to be careful and stay away from politics as much as possible, otherwise you can frighten the police from recording your case,” he said.
Mairos has not managed to visit his home in rural Masvingo Province, in southeastern Zimbabwe, since the beginning of May, for fear of attack, but he has been told by relatives that the militia killed his three goats and took his grain to use as food at their bases, which were also used as torture camps.
“Once the dust has settled, those who stole my livestock and grain will have to compensate me or face jail; I know them,” Mairos said.
David Chimhini, the director of the Harare-based Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust, said it would be difficult for victims to forgive their “enemies”, but it was important that political parties “invest their efforts in a process of national healing and promote a culture of tolerance and forgiveness, if we are to pull out of this mess”.
“You can’t underestimate the urge for revenge among victims, now that they have a sense of boldness as the election fever subsides. But retaliation would be regrettable, given the sorry state that post-election violence has left our country in. Political parties and civil society should come together and build the capacity in communities for co-existence,” said Chimhini.
He said it was “unfortunate that innocent people were turned into murderers by political leaders who just want to safeguard their personal interests”, but also conceded that some of the perpetrators of violence were “settling personal scores with their enemies, yet others were naively overzealous”.