Eye Witness: Soldiers Bludgeon Orphans

Following newspaper reports that 12 gun toting soldiers ransacked an orphanage in Bulawayo and beat up children indiscriminately Lance Guma speaks to Charles Ncube, the Skills Training Officer who was on duty on the day.

Why did soldiers from Mugabe’s Presidential Guard at Bulawayo’s State House descend on innocent and defenceless children, assaulting some with rifle butts and sending at least 7 to hospital?

Interview broadcast 19 November 2009

Lance Guma: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to another edition of Behind the Headlines. This week we are focussing on the story that caused quite an outrage; it was reported that a dozen gun toting soldiers ransacked an orphanage in Bulawayo last week and beat up children in the process. Now to get more on what happened we speak to Mr Charles Ncube who is the Skills and Training Officer at Thuthuka. Mr. Ncube thank you very much for joining us. 

Charles Ncube: Thank you. 

Guma: Now there was a bit of confusion initially whether this was an orphanage, an education project, can you clarify what does your institution do?

Ncube: Yes we rehabilitate the former street kids. We are a Scripture Union initiative, we are under Thuthuka, so we deal with the former street kids, it’s a training centre for former street kids not only in Bulawayo but we take kids from all over the country. 

Guma: Alright so it’s mainly, not even just orphans, even people from various backgrounds who… 

Ncube: The majority of those street children are orphans. 

Guma: OK. Now what happened? I mean it was shocking for a lot of people to read what was reported in most of the newspapers. Can you tell us what happened?

Ncube: My boys were attacked by six boys from Harrisvale but what happened is one of the boys is the young brother to a member of ZNA with the Presidential Guard they stay at Harrisvale which is a suburb close to us. So when they attacked one of my boys, he raised the alarm and the others, and when he raised the alarm, we did not hear anything as members of staff so when I heard from one of the leaders that the senior boys were not there, we were preparing to go to devotion then I ordered him to write the names of the boys that were there or the children that were there.

Interesting thing is when the members of the army came in from what we heard, the young brother to the member of ZNA (Zimbabwe National Army) phoned to say they are members of the opposition that are attacking their residents. Our boys did not go to the president’s place. They went to the civilians place.

This guy when he got in with the other members of the ZNA Presidential Guard, four of them were armed. So I tried to reason with them because I was officer in charge, officer on duty. They declined to listen to me and they beat my kids indiscriminately. 

Guma: Why were they beating the kids at the Centre? What had they done?

Ncube: They were wrongly informed by the young brother to one of the members of the army. He said to the brother they are members of the opposition that are attacking the residents. So when they came in, 12 of them, four were armed so when I tried to reason with them, they did not want to know, even one of them shouted, ngati rove nemudhara wacho- lets also beat up the old man.

But when we were outside now one of the guys actually said, ngati rove nemudhara wacho- lets also beat up the old man, referring to me, because I’m staff on duty at the Training Centre. 


Guma: Can you describe the sort of injuries some of the children suffered as a result of this?

Ncube: Four of my boys Lucky Moyo sustained a swollen knee from a butt of a gun, John sustained a suspected broken ankle but the  x-rays showed the other way which was just, I think it was not fractured per se but it was sorely bruised. Then I’ve got Grief, Tyler Grief he’s got a swollen leg also from the butt of a gun and Tafadzwa also, Tafadzwa I actually saw him, his head was battered also. Four boys just sustained that. 

Then we’ve got an outsider who was trying to squat and help himself, he was taken as one of my boys who was trying to hide. And as it is now, my boys, my children are traumatised. The week last on Wednesday a truck pulled up and stopped at our gate and our kids ran away, thinking they were members of the army again. But four of these were actually attacked by the soldiers, so four, sorry but the rest they just sustained injuries but not related to gun butts. 

Guma: We hear from the reports that you took the kids to Mpilo Hospital. 

Ncube: Alright. Lucky Moyo he sustained a swollen knee, thigh from the butt of a gun. I’ve got this other boy John he’s got an ankle injury from the butt of a gun, I’ve got Tyler he’s got an injury on his leg from the butt of a gun and then Tafadzwa also from the butt of a gun. 

Guma: We heard you had struggled to raise the money for x-rays and things like that, how did that go?

Ncube: We didn’t have money there and then at the Centre but the police were aware of it, they gave us a police document to use but when we got to Mpilo (Hospital) they told us they didn’t have the ink for the x-rays so we ended up going to a private practitioner to get the x-rays done. 

Guma: We also understand on the same day that the soldiers attacked your place, they also went on a rampage at Trennance Shopping Centre. Did you hear these reports?

Ncube: Yes they hit some people at Ngosibusise and they had taken two of my boys and they hit them in front of people to say show us your friends but in the process they hit other people. I’ve got people in the vicinity who are prepared to talk about it.

Then they went to Garden Cash which is nearer to their residence and they hit people there again. My boys were still with them. Then they took them to their camp, but interestingly the army truck when they came to us, from their camp, they went to the police station with these trucks, the new ones the Mahindra or something something, why change vehicles if it was anything that was legal? 

Guma: We’re trying to get to the bottom of this, I mean why attack a place that has orphans? 

Ncube: Because you know why my son, we are now talking with my Operations Director and he was saying I think there’s need for us to put a wall right round our place. The Member-in-Charge at Saucerstown said – don’t you think you are doing these kids more harm by enclosing them, mind you where they are coming from, uniformed members of the force come and they attack these defenceless children, we still want an answer from the guy at the top, why they came in there? 

Guma: There was speculation that a soldier known as Tafadzwa had tried to propose to a girl at the Centre, did you hear about that?

Ncube: He’s not a soldier, he’s the young brother to the soldier. 

Guma: OK.

Ncube: The young brother to the soldier, he’s the one that raised the alarm to the brother that members of the opposition, which opposition? When you are talking about the government of National Unity and most of these are innocent children who are apolitical. 

Guma: So you had someone who’s not even a soldier who was trying to propose to a 15 year old girl, was rejected and… 

Ncube: Yes and when he came in with the brother who is a soldier, with other soldiers, they even went into the girls’ dormitory, which is a non-starter as far as we are concerned. They matron had to hide in the toilet. They hit the toilet door with the butt of the gun again. 

Guma: Why are we getting a lot of this lawlessness from soldiers? I mean because you are even saying so yourself after they moved from the orphanage they went to Trennance, started beating people up, why are the army engaging in this sort of thing, what do you think is happening?

Ncube: From what I heard from the Member-in-Charge, the Officer Commanding, phoned the Member-in-Charge at Saucerstown the Member-in-Charge said, had he said Thuthuka I’d have told him what type of children stay there and whom to go and see because I’ve been staying there for four years. In other words you should have established a rapport with members of the army, that’s why we were organising a soccer game with them.

But surprisingly they came without a member of the police force and they attacked our kids and someone coming in to these defenceless people carrying a gun and having said that even saying lets, ngati rove nemudhara wacho (let’s beat up the old man). 

Guma: Have you been able to get the names of the people who were involved because we are hearing there’s one Sergeant Tshabalala who is stationed at Bulawayo State House. 

Ncube: Tshabalala, instruction from a Mr Moyo who was their driver. He is the one who said musa rova vanhu (don’t beat people up) because Moyo said no this is Mr Ncube, ndiye anogara pano nevana ava (this is Mr Ncube he is the one that stays with these kids here). We are organising a soccer game with them yet my boys were now lying on flat, face flat in the truck and they were actually walking on top of them. 

Guma: So Mr Ncube you are saying the members of the army were actually walking on top of the children in the truck? 

Ncube: Yes, until Mr Tshabalala said musa rova vanhu (don’t beat people up). This after Mr Moyo who was their driver had recognised me. 

Guma: It sounds spectacular that you actually were in the process of organising a soccer match with these same soldiers. 

Ncube: A soccer match – that’s how close we were with these people and suddenly somebody sends the wrong information to them. 

Guma: So did you report to the police? What happened?

Ncube: Yes we went there and an article came out in the Standard, it came out in the Standard about this thing Mr .(inaudible) who is my boss was there with me and these guys, my children were badly injured when we were there. 

Guma: What are the police saying?

Ncube: Mr Tshabalala, do you know the interesting scenario is when these army guys came to our place, there were 12 of them, I counted them, they were armed but going to the police station, there were five that went there, what happened to the seven? And the guys and civilians who are the relatives to the soldiers. 

Guma: So you actually went to the police station with these soldiers when you made the report?

Ncube: We found them there. 

Guma: OK what were they doing at the police station? What were the soldiers doing at the police station? 

Ncube: They were instructed by their Member-in-Charge, their Officer Commanding to take the guys they had brought in as evidence to the Charge Office. But why not all 12 of them? Where had the other seven gone to? Where had the other seven gone to? Because when they came to our place there were 12 of them. I counted them. 

Guma: So are the police going to do anything about this? Have they arrested anyone?

Ncube: We are dying for that. We are dying for that. We are dying for that. I’m spending sleepless nights because we used to do roll calls my son at night to check if our kids are there, I’ve stopped it because they are so traumatised, you open their doors, they run only to find it’s me. Please, we need some help. 

Guma: Anyway Mr Ncube thank you so much for joining us on Behind the Headlines and talking about what happened. Thank you very much. 

Ncube: Thank you my son 

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