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On the Record:

The words of
Robert Mugabe
It may be necessary to use methods I do not want to be overthrown and I
1962 other than constitutional ones. 2000 will try to overthrow those who want
to overthrow me.
(in a radio broadcast from Mozambique)
1976 Our votes must go together with our
guns. After all, any vote we shall have, shall have 2000 Those who try to cause disunity
among our people must watch out
been the product of the gun . . . The people’s votes because death will befall them.
and the people’s guns are always inseparable twins.
You are soldiers of ZANU-PF for the

1982 An eye for an eye and an ear for an ear

may not be adequate in our
2002 people . . . When the time comes to
fire the bullet, the ballot, the trajectory of the gun must
circumstances. We might very well demand two ears be true.
for one ear and two eyes for one eye.
Let the MDC and its leadership be

1983 We have to deal with this problem quite

ruthlessly. Don’t cry if your relatives get
2003 warned that those who play with fire
will not only be burnt, but consumed by that fire.
killed in the process . . . We eradicate them. We do
not differentiate who we fight because we can’t tell (describing the use of violence to
who is a dissident and who is not. 2003 crush opposition) If that is Hitler, then
let me be a Hitler ten-fold. Ten times. That is what we
We will kill those snakes among us, we stand for.
1985 will smash them completely.
Some are crying that they were

1999 We are still exchanging blows with the

British government . . . Each time I
2006 beaten. Yes you will be thoroughly
beaten. When the police say move you move. If you
pass through London, the gangster regime of Blair don’t move, you invite the police to use force.
“expresses its dismay.”
(on the police beating of opposition

1999 (in response to a letter written by four

Supreme Court judges seeking
2007 party leader Morgan Tsvangirai) I told
the police (to) beat him a lot. He asked for it.
clarification from the president on a torture charge)
The judiciary has no right to give instructions to the I will not allow Tsvangirai and his
President on any matter as the four judges have
purported to do. In those circumstances, the one and
2007 bosses to taste this seat. Never, ever!

only honourable course open to [the judges] is quitting I will never, never, never, never
the Bench. 2008 surrender. Zimbabwe is mine.

8 Electing to Rape: Sexual Terror in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe

Electing to Rape: Sexual Terror in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe

Rape as Strategy

Tyrants with pathological cravings for power have whatever a husband’s reaction, fear of life-altering
organized campaigns of rape since ancient times, consequences such as HIV infection and pregnancy
from Troy to Nanking and Sierra Leone to Cyprus, loom large for women, as do lingering physical and
from East Pakistan to the Democratic Republic of psychological trauma. Married or single, victims
the Congo and beyond. And yet, everyone ever dread that family, community, life itself will never be
convicted of orchestrating mass rape could be the same.
crowded into a single holding cell. Since 1998, the
When entire communities are targeted for rape,
international community has agreed that rape when
societal collapse ensues. Women cease to
committed as part of a widespread or systematic
function, afraid to leave home, terrorized in equal
attack against a civilian population can be
measure by threats of rape and of its long-term,
prosecuted as a crime against humanity. But that
destructive aftermath.
charge has rarely been made.
Ironically, among the few men who have stopped to
Reasons abound. Most leaders and societies have
analyze the unique, destabilizing power of rape are
not taken the time to understand rape, and so they
those who use it as a strategy, especially during
erroneously place it along a continuum that begins
armed conflict and political upheaval, to control
with normal sexual arousal. Few recognize it as a
civilian populations and maintain power. They know
separate, violent act of terror and control, as
it’s easy to conscript impoverished men and boys
unrelated to consensual sex as force-feeding poison
raised in sexist societies to “take charge” of women
is to sharing a meal.
in exchange for small pay. They know that
No country in the world has made it a priority to deploying rape brigades is cheap and expeditious:
prevent or punish rape. Because rape has some no heavy weaponry, training, or maneuvers. They
characteristics of consensual sex, most courts know that targeting women breaks the backbones,
require proof—difficult to produce without the will, and the cohesion of communities, leaving
witnesses—that victims were unwilling. Few rapes them vulnerable. Most crucial, they know that the
get reported, and convictions are rare. world is blind to women—that diplomats,
journalists, peacekeepers, and aid workers remain
Fear, shame, and an overwhelming sense of futility
largely oblivious as campaigns of sexual terror
keep women silent. Once, rape was considered theft
unfold around them, and that even eyewitnesses to
of a man’s property, and modern variations persist.
systematic gang rape will mistake it for
In societies where a man can demand that his wife
spontaneous opportunistic sex.
provide sex, bear children, house-keep, feed, and
care for his extended family, victims of rape are Robert Mugabe is among the world’s diabolical
often accused by their husbands of surrendering to masterminds of sexual terror. He understands
another man’s control. Banishment is common, gender; he understands rape. He understands
robbing the victim of her livelihood and identity. But impunity. It is time he understood justice.

Maintaining Power with Violence

Power with
Mugabe’s brutal decades in Matabeleland and Midlands, two of Zimbabwe’s
provinces.16 The massacre of the Ndebele people
The testimony that AIDS-Free World has gathered and this violent period in Zimbabwe’s history came
to support claims that ZANU-PF supporters to be known by the government operation’s code-
committed sexual crimes against humanity is name, Gukurahundi, a Shona word that means “the
distressing but not completely surprising. The early rain which washes away the chaff before the
history of Zimbabwe is the story of conflict. It is spring rains.”17
also a story that is as notable for what it conceals as
what it reveals. Veiled beneath the documentation References to widespread, systematic rape during
of decades of mass torture, murder, and forced the Gukurahundi are fleeting, but they do exist.18
abduction is a continuous thread of rape and The stories from that time are remarkably similar
sexual brutality against the women of Zimbabwe. to the testimony AIDS-Free World gathered
Since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, twenty-five years later from the victims of
widespread rape against women has been a key politically motivated rape in 2008: women accused
feature of the violence utilized by Robert Mugabe of being “sell-outs,” and abducted and detained at
and his supporters to maintain power in that ZANU base camps where youth militias forced
country.11 Reports of human rights violations in them to sing ZANU songs and raped them.19
Zimbabwe over the past three decades pay far less
attention to rape than to other types of human These were not
rights abuses, but still hint at the hidden epidemic
of systematic rape employed by Mugabe and random acts of rape
ZANU-PF.12 The long-term use of rape as a and violence; they
political tool in Zimbabwe has been enabled by the
historical lack of accountability for it.13 were crimes against
In 1982, shortly after independence, then-Prime
Minister Mugabe sent the North Korean-trained 5 In 1987, Robert Mugabe and Joseph Nkomo
Brigade14 to quell an uprising by ethnic minority negotiated a unity accord effectively absorbing
Ndebele supporters of Joshua Nkomo, the leader ZAPU into ZANU; the new consolidated party
of Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), a was named ZANU-PF. The story continues
group that had split off from Mugabe and around the year 2000, when ZANU-PF youth
ZANU.15 Over the next several years, Mugabe’s militias and people who identify as veterans of the
military operation killed an estimated 20,000 people liberation war (known locally as “war vets”),

invaded white-owned commercial farms. The “systematic and widespread campaign of terror to
takeovers were an attempt to woo opposition intimidate the electorate into voting for Robert
supporters under the pretext that ZANU-PF alone Mugabe in the runoff election.” 24
was willing to redress historic racial discrimination
in land ownership.20 At the same time, ZANU-PF While international media coverage at this time
waged a campaign of terror against MDC focused heavily on the country’s hyperinflation,
supporters in an effort to influence the outcome of cholera outbreaks, and efforts of outside mediators
the 2000 Parliamentary elections. When the to broker a peace, a number of non-governmental
campaign ended, a Clemency Order dated October organizations (NGOs) did publish accounts of
6, 2000 was issued by the Mugabe government targeted beatings, murder, and destruction carried
granting amnesty for all politically motivated crimes out against the MDC opposition.25 The testimony
committed from January through July of that year. taken by AIDS-Free World from seventy victims
Rape, murder, and fraud were excluded, but documents rape, but also adds to the growing
because the police ignored those crimes as well, it evidence of other abuses committed by the
was a de facto blanket amnesty.21 During the 2002 ZANU-PF. Of the seventy rape survivors
presidential elections, reports of “youth camps” interviewed, four women reported that ZANU-PF
began to emerge where women were detained and men also burned their relatives alive,26 sixteen
raped, sometimes for days and weeks at a time.22 women reported that ZANU-PF militia burned
down their homes,27 three women witnessed
ZANU-PF use burning plastic on the skin of
MDC members as a form of torture, and two
The present women reported that ZANU-PF men amputated
the hands or legs of their husbands and other
The violence associated with the first and second MDC men held at the militia bases.28 One woman
rounds of Zimbabwe’s 2008 presidential election who was able to recount her own ordeal could not
continued the trend of violence that runs relay the extent of what she witnessed, stating, “I
throughout Mugabe’s regime. After MDC saw things done to people at the base that I cannot
opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai garnered talk about because it affects me too much.”29
more votes than Mugabe in March, the
government’s election commission declared on Yet despite the human rights reports emerging
May 2, over strong objections, that neither from Zimbabwe, little notice was paid to the
candidate had won an outright majority, and widespread targeting and rape of female MDC
scheduled a runoff election for June 27, 2008. supporters. The testimony gathered by AIDS-Free
During May and June, as part of ZANU-PF’s World reveals that women throughout Zimbabwe
effort to win the runoff election and intimidate the who are affiliated with the MDC were abducted,
opposition, Mugabe reportedly sent his supporters beaten, and gang raped by President Mugabe’s
out to “do whatever [they] want” to MDC ZANU-PF youth militia in similar ways, and they
members.23 Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff were told exactly why it was happening to them.
five days before the election took place, citing These were not random acts of rape and violence;
concern for the safety of his supporters due to a they were crimes against humanity.

16 Electing to Rape: Sexual Terror in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe