VICTIMS OF POLITICALLY INSTIGATED RAPE, TORTURE

LITTLE more than a year ago Memory Shiriinorira was a healthy young mother of two. Life was hard but she had hope, despite the depressing environment of the Epworth slum, just 12km beyond the Harare city centre.

LITTLE more than a year ago Memory Shiriinorira was a healthy young mother of two. Life was hard but she had hope, despite the depressing environment of the Epworth slum, just 12km beyond the Harare city centre.

Hope came through the promise of change in Zimbabwe, change promised by the the aptly named Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Shiriinorira made plain her preference for the MDC in the elections of June last year, a choice that was to prove a probable death sentence. Militants of the ruling Zanu-PF rampaged through areas like Epworth, seeking out the "disobedient" individuals who supported, or who were suspected of supporting, the MDC. Shiriinorira was an obvious target.

She was not alone. The Zimbabwe Rape Survivors Association estimates that more than 2000 women and girls were the victims of "politically motivated rape" between May and June of last year.

Some never survived. Many, like Shiriinorira, are now HIV positive and, again, like her, have to continue to live in fear in the same communities, facing, on an almost daily basis, their often smirking attackers.

At the Epworth clinic where Shiriinorira receives what ARV treatment is available, she regularly comes face to face with one of her attackers, the man who probably infected her with HIV.

There is nothing she can do. Shortly after her rape she reported to the police only to be abused and then told by a senior officer that the police were not dealing with "political cases".

She lives in constant pain and, because of an insufficient diet, realises she is dying. So she feels she has nothing to lose, but worries about her children, daughters aged eight and 12.

This is why she chose to speak out on a brief film made by the Harare-based Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) that was brought to South Africa last week with the help of the International Centre for Transitional Justice.

She also feels that by making her story as widely public as possible, she might gain some protection. RAU also hopes that sufficient attention and pressure will be focused on Zimbabwe to perhaps lessen such violence that tends to peak at election time.

The 16-minute film, Hear Us, features four women survivors, two of whom remain anonymous for fear of retribution. They were severely assaulted in June last year by Zanu-PF youths who called themselves the Taliban.

But as RAU programme manager Kudakwashe Chitsike readily admits, most of the women and young girls who suffered this politically motivated violence are too afraid to speak out, only too aware that there is little or no protection should their attackers decide to exact vengeance.

Some women who were not raped were stripped, sexually abused, humiliated, beaten, kicked, trampled on and tortured.

The film is available in South Africa and is also being distributed and screened in Zimbabwe to heighten awareness of what has happened, and to provide support to survivors. - Sapa

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