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Gukurahundi Massacres: Types of Physical Torture (Part 14)

PART THREE: ORGANISED VIOLENCE: THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE 1980s DISTURBANCES FOR ITS VICTIMS

A.Definitions of organised violence

B.Forms of organised violence.

1.)Physical torture

2.)Deprivation

3.)Sensory overstimulation

4.)Psychological torture – general

5.)Psychological torture – witnessing of violence

6.)Psychological torture – Disappearances

C.Consequences of organised violence

1.)Physical consequences

2.)Psychological consequences

D.Consequences of organised violence for society.

E.Relevance to Matabeleland – conclusion

It is difficult to estimate the costs of the epidemic violence of the 1980s. Costs must be measured in physical injuries, psychological disorders, economic damage and social pathology. Some of these costs, such as the medical consequences of physical injury, can be estimated, at the least by inference and comparison.

The key men behind the Gukurahundi Massacres: Robert Mugabe (President), Emmerson Mnangagwa (then State Security Minister) and Perrence Shiri (then commander of the 5th Brigade).
The key men behind the Gukurahundi Massacres: Robert Mugabe (President), Emmerson Mnangagwa (then State Security Minister) and Perrence Shiri (then commander of the 5th Brigade).

Psychological disorder can be also be estimated, as there is already a reasonably extensive literature on the effects of organised violence. The following chapter of this report (Legal Damages), makes some attempt to indicate the economic costs of the 1980s disturbances. There are, however, very few indications that social pathology can be easily measured.

As indicated in the previous chapters, the scale of violence was very large, and involved large numbers of people. The experiences reported by these people can be categorised, and it is the aim of this chapter to put the effects of the reported violence into a more human perspective.

Firstly, for each type of torture, we will begin with a definition and some examples, as these are necessary, both for a clear understanding of the forensic approach involved, and for an interpretation of the reports from Matabeleland. Then we will look at a specific testimony from the 1980s disturbances illustrating the given category of torture.

Once we have gone through the six main categories of torture in this way, we will make some general observations about the physical and psychological consequences of organised violence, and of the likely situation now in Matabeleland for survivors. We will not attempt to quantify any of the categories for the 1980s, as this would be inappropriate in the absence of direct clinical measurement.

We will, however, comment upon the likely prevalence of disorders, since direct comparison with other local and regional samples is possible. We will conclude with some suggestions for remediation of the ill-effects. Readers must bear in mind that the case testimonies which will be outlined in this chapter are merely illustrative, not conclusive evidence for any proposition.

EXISTING STUDIES ON VIOLENCE IN THE ZIMBABWEAN SETTING

There has been a series of studies into prevalence and effect of organised violence carried out at two small rural hospitals, at Mount Darwin and Karanga in the far north eastern corner of Zimbabwe. Although this area was completely unaffected by events in the 1980s, it is an area that suffered extreme violence in the 1970s, and is the only area where the long term conseqences of organised violence for Zimbabweans have been studied. As no studies on the effects of the 1980s violence have yet been done, the Mount Darwin/Karanga study may provide some insight into the effects of organised violence in a Zimbabwean setting.

This suggestion is not made dogmatically, and one would expect cultural and historical differences to have made the 1980s experience discreet for its sufferers from the 1970s violence. Much of the data in the 1970s studies relates to war veterans, whereas in Matabeleland and the Midlands in the 1980s, it was civilians who were affected by the violence: there are problems in extrapolating from the former group to the latter. Even where Mount Darwin results relate to civilians, it must be remembered that in Matabeleland and the Midlands, people have now suffered two consecutive periods of violence, which has compounded the plight of survivors in these regions.

Interested readers are therefore referred to the list of references for this chapter, if they wish to pursue what is already known from the Mount Darwin/Karanga studies. As has been mentioned before in this report, the techniques of torture used by government agencies in the 1980s were nothing new in this country: such abuse was widespread in the 1970s.

A.DEFINITIONS OF ORGANISED VIOLENCE

The term “organised violence” derives from an initiative of the World Health Organisation (WHO), and, in Southern Africa, has been given a definition that both includes and extends the original definition given by the WHO. An International Conference, and a subsequent Regional Meeting, both held in Harare, gave the following definition:

“Organised violence is the interhuman infliction of significant avoidable pain and suffering by an organised group according to a declared or implied strategy and/or system of ideas and attitudes. It comprises any violent action which is unacceptable by general human standards, and relates to the victims’ feelings. Organised violence includes inter alia “torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” as mentioned in Article 5 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights(1948).

Imprisonment without trial, mock executions, hostage taking or any other form of violent deprivation of liberty also fall under the heading of organised violence. The effects of apartheid, destabilisation, civil war, the forced displacement of people, and political violence constitute organised violence. Violence which occurs in these situations as a direct consequence of political repression, although it may appear random, is of a structural nature, involves violation of basic human rights and can only disappear when human, social and political relationships are profoundly changed.” (PAZ.1991)

As can be seen from this definition, the terms covers a very wide range of effects, from torture to displacement, from deliberate infliction of bodily harm to economic hardship. This may seem to some to be an unduly wide definition, but it does bear some relation to reality. It can also be seen, that the events of the 1980s fall well within the definition of what constitutes organised violence.

There are other more restrictive definitions, mostly indicated in international conventions, declarations, and principles.

The United Nations Convention against Torture gives a very formal legal definition, as does the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The African Charter of Human and People’s Rights gives a very simple and clearly understandable definition.

These legal definitions are mirrored in the definitions given by medical and forensic scientists, all of which emphasise the element of deliberate harm and violations of humanitarian principles. It is with these forensic perspectives that we examined the reports of violence in Zimbabwe in the 1980s.

In our review of the research and clinical studies, it became apparent that some clear categories emerge, both for types of violence and types of effects. We will describe these categories below in some detail.

B.FORMS OF ORGANISED VIOLENCE

It has become conventional in the study of organised violence to view violence as a kind of stress, albeit a very extreme form of stress. Where man-made stress is concerned, war, torture, riots, and psychological terror are sometimes considered to occupy a very similar position on the stress dimension. Despite their similarity, it is worth specifying the various forms, for, although the intent behind the violence may be the same – to deliberately harm human beings – the effects found are by no means uniform.

Organised violence can be very simply classified into six main kinds:

1. Physical torture. 2. Deprivation. 3. Sensory overstimulation. 4 Psychological torture – general 5. Psychological torture – Witnessing of death or torture. 6. Psychological torture – “Disappearing” of people.

These are by no means exclusive categories: it is usually not possible to separate clearly physical and psychological torture, except in the rare cases of psychological torture occurring in the absence of physical torture. It is fair to say that physical torture is always accompanied by verbal threats. In addition, people can suffer several types of physical torture simultaneously.

A person might have been tortured, both physically and psychologically, have seen this happen to others, and have had a member of her family forcibly abducted and never seen again. Certainly, most interviewees providing data for this report suffered multiple types of abuse, as will be clearly illustrated by the cases used below.

A seventh category, wounds due to war, might also have been included, for these will clearly be found amongst people from Matabeleland and other victims of war, but this category is so obvious in its origin and its effects that it requires little discussion. Unfortunately, bullet wounds, or limbs missing due to land mine explosions are all too often the only pathology examined by a society.

Here we would point out that the First National Disability Survey, carried out in the early 1980’s, is a good example of this point: injuries due to war are reported exclusively as physical injuries. We will thus concentrate on the original six areas.

1.PHYSICAL TORTURE

All methods of physical torture have the common element of causing extreme pain in a position of complete helplessness. This can be illustrated by a simple example in the difference between being hit by fists and boots in a fight as compared with being hit by fists and boots whilst being tied up.

Although it is generally futile to attempt any classification of types of physical torture, since man’s creativity in this area seems to know no limits, the range of types may be illustrated by reference to the findings from an international study on torture victims (Rasmussen.1990).

TABLE 1

TYPES OF PHYSICAL TORTURE (from Rasmussen. 1990)

Beating 99%

Severe beating 97%

Severe beating (head) 73%

Electrical torture 54%

Physical exhaustion 34%

Climatic stress 33%

Asphyxiation 29%

Falanga 29%

Severe beating (genitals) 20%

Submarine (“wet”) 19%

Standing 17%

Suspension by arms or legs 6%

Banging head 15%

Abnormal body position 13%

Torture by heat 13%

Suspension on bar 10%

Sexual torture 10%

Telephone 9%

Submarine (“dry”) 6%

Sexual torture (rape) 3%

Nail torture 2%

Pushed down stairs, out of window 1%

In the 1980s disturbances: relating this to statements made to compilers of this report, all of the above types of physical torture, with the exception of the last two, occurred in the 1980s disturbances. The prevalence of various types of physical torture in different parts of the country varied, but research has not been analysed comprehensively enough at this stage to result in tables offering precise ratios for all these categories, although general trends can be commented upon.

Certainly, it is quite obvious that beating, severe beating, and beating on the head were the most common forms of torture in the 1980s, in all regions for which records now exist. For named victims across all categories of physical torture, over 80% reported beatings. This number increases to more than 90% if unnamed victims involved in mass beatings are considered.

In addition, the Matobo pilot study suggested that there were greater refinements in physical torture in 1984, and in particular that sexual torture was more common at this time. Further study will be needed to establish the precise ratios of these various types of abuse in the 1980s.

One form of physical torture which was reported from all districts on file as having occurred in the 1980s, was the use of burning plastic: burning plastic bags would be dripped on to restrained victims. There are photographs on file of people scarred as a result of this form of torture.

It is common for different kinds of physical torture to be given at the same time: people can be beaten while being suspended or tied up in unusual positions: furthermore, physical torture can be accompanied by other kinds of torture. Almost every interview on record relating to the 1980s, reports the use of verbal abuse – psychological torture – in conjunction with one or more kinds of physical violence, either observed or personally experienced.

A considerable research effort has gone into identifying methods of physical torture, and new variations are found all the time. It is also apparent that methods seem to spread across the planet, and there is no form of physical torture that seems specific to any one culture. Not only the current study, but also the recent study of Zimbabwean war veterans in Mount Darwin endorses this, giving evidence of most of the forms of torture mentioned by Rassmussen.

In most torture studies, beatings of one kind or another are by far the most common methods of abuse. The beatings can be generally all over the body, but some countries show a preference for a particular kind of beating. Falanga, or beating the soles of the feet, has been frequently reported in Middle Eastern countries, but there are reports of its use in African countries too. Electrical torture is popular because of the extreme pain that it causes, as well as the few scars that it leaves.

The point to grasp here is that any physical harm caused deliberately is torture, and thus any procedure or object can become torture or be used in torture.

PHYSICAL TORTURE IN THE 1980s

As can be seen from the summary of the reports, many persons (65%) experienced some form of physical torture.

Beatings constitute about 80% of the physical torture reported, with electrical shock, submarino, suspension, abnormal postures and rape all reported. The picture is actually little different to the kinds of abuse reported in other Zimbabwean studies. The following case, Interview Case Number 1679 TD illustrates a not-uncommon story.

On the 10th June 1983 at 4 pm I was taken from my workplace in a Puma vehicle, along with 2 others who worked for another store in Tsholotsho. We were taken to Mbamba Police Camp, about 40-50 km away. When we got there we were separated. My friend and I were accused of telephoning Bulawayo to warn our masters to stay away, because the killers (the 5 Brigade) were still there.

The 5 Brigade had made it known that they wanted to kill my master, Y, and my friend’s master, K. They had gone to hide in Bulawayo. I was beaten and lost 4 teeth on the spot, and 12 others after this. My friend was tied with his hands and feet together. They would hang him head down and feet up until he was paralysed in both hands and feet. He died from this in 1993. From 1983 he was on and off in hospital.

This individual received blows to the face, which were severe enough to cause the loss of teeth, and may well have resulted in further injuries. There would be queries about possible hearing loss, as well as possible minor brain injury.

His friend experienced a severe form of suspension, which would have resulted in joint injuries, especially if he had experienced beatings at the same time as the suspension. The paralysis reported is unclear, but severe nerve damage is also a consequence of suspension. This case also illustrates the difficulty in separating out the different types of torture that these two men experienced. At the least we would have to consider physical torture, psychological torture, deprivation, and witnessing as possible experiences.

In addition to beating, some brief mention must be made of the other forms reported. Some survivors have reported the use of electrical shock, and this is a very severe form of abuse, which may result in physical damage in the form of lesions, and very frequently leads to long standing psychological disorder. Here it is enough to point out the effects of what is termed “aversive conditioning”.

Aversive stimulation, which is most frequently some form of electrical shock has been shown to have long-standing effects: one animal study of the effects of electrical shock showed complete suppression of all behaviour, including eating, in a squirrel monkey given very mild shock, and aversive conditioning has been used for the suppression of anti-social or disabling behaviour in the field of psychiatry. Under psychological torture following, there is mention of a persistent sexual disorder reported by one man in Mashonaland who had been sexually tortured through the use of electrical shock, and there are likely to be similar cases in Matabeleland, as the following case from the CCJP Confidential Report on Torture in Zimbabwe illustrates.

They then blindfolded and handcuffed me with my hands at the back and leg ironed me. Then they started beating me with a pick handle or some such stick. They beat me under the feet and on the back. I was lying face downwards as they were beating me. The pain was too severe for any description, I fainted in the process. When I gained consciousness,…., who was senior to the man beating me came and gave orders that they use electric shock on me. They used the field electric telephone. The instrument works on battery power. Wires were tied to my genitals, then they would wind the machine. On winding the shock runs through the body and I was screaming. The shock threw me down but I could not remove the wires because I was handcuffed. While I was screaming, they would dip a large family size towel in water and then tie it around my face covering the nose, so that I was breathing in water through my nose and mouth. This treatment caused me to faint. They poured water on me until I gained consciousness. Afterwards, that same day (at night) I was taken to Kadoma at Eiffel Flats. In the morning my feet were swollen so much and I could not pass urine, for my genitals were swollen and painful.

This case illustrates how many forms of torture are used simultaneously. This man suffered falango, or beating of the feet, together with more general beating, sexual torture through use of electric shocks, and asphyxiation. Tying up, suspensions, being placed in abnormal positions are all reported by the 1980s survivors, and the likely result is that many of them will have persistent joint injuries, which cause pain and suffering, affecting both their capacity to work and indulge in social activities. Certainly, survivors claim such injuries in their interviews, and many claim current medical records in support of ongoing health problems.

Here it is worth commenting that the data from studies of survivors from the Liberation War indicate that many persons are still suffering persistent pain more than 2 decades after the original abuse, so we cannot be complacent about the effects of human rights violations in the 1980s.

The Matabeleland reports show some differences too with the Mashonaland reports and war veteran reports.

For example, as in the case above, there are on the 1980s records, more cases of falanga, and this form of abuse produces very severe and crippling long-term effects. Additionally, the medical records from Matabeleland show people with severe injuries due to beatings and other forms of physical abuse. It will be a matter of urgency to offer the proper physical rehabilitation for these survivors.

2.DEPRIVATION

Deprivation is separated from psychological torture in the Southern African setting because it happens very frequently that people are detained in circumstances that lead to ill-treatment, but where the intention is not deliberately to use the detention as torture. For the victim, however, the effect of the deprivation can be the same as torture. The point here is that torture is not just a matter of what was in the mind of the perpetrator or the person doing the detention, but it is also a question of what the victim believed was happening.

Deprivation should be understood as representing extreme stress, frequently causing exceptional discomfort or pain.

Deprivation covers a variety of different experiences, summarised below in Table 2.

TABLE 2

TYPES OF DEPRIVATION (From Reeler. 1995))

Incommunication, minimal food and comfort: overcrowding for more than 2-3 days.

Lack of water (more than 48 hours).

Immobilisation, restraint, total darkness for more than 48 hours.

Lack of sleep (less than 4 hours per night).

Lack of needed medication or medical care.

Again this is not an exclusive list, but it covers the kinds of treatments that are forbidden by most human rights conventions or conventions relating to the treatment of prisoners or detainees. Furthermore, these forms of abuse can be very difficult to assess in many countries where the above forms of ill treatment are so common as to be felt that they are “normal” methods of treating prisoners. Patients will frequently be accustomed to these methods, or know that they are routinely practised, so that they will not remark upon them for themselves.

DEPRIVATION IN THE 1980s

Deprivation has long-term effects, and we must mention both the specific deprivation suffered by those who were detained, and the more general effects of the food embargo and curfews. To deal with the first, we must here mention the effects of the detention in Bhalagwe, which was distinct from the interrogation centres such as Stops Camp.

Detention on its own may not have adverse consequences, but combined with psychological torture and deprivation, long term adeverse consequences become more likely.

One obvious consequence for those who have experienced detention, is a deep fear of authorities and places from where authorities exercise their power: police stations, offices, and the like. Many survivors are likely to have strong anxiety at having to enter such places, or having to attend any official gatherings. Political rallies, voting, and similar events are quite likely to bring back strong post-traumatic responses. Furthermore, those who suffer psychological disorders as a consequence of their detention, may well retain traumatic memories of their detention, and these will be all the more powerful if detention was accompanied by torture or the witnessing of torture.

Bhalagwe Camp appears to be the one setting where specific deprivation occurred: conditions here were designed and enforced in a way to induce maximum discomfort. Those detained at Bhalagwe in the first day or two, before the camp was full, have reported that in spite of the fact that there were holding sheds standing empty, detainees were deliberately crowded in to a few sheds, to the point where there was virtually no space to sleep at night. Water and food were also rationed. The following sworn statement was made by a 19 year-old boy to CCJP on the 8 March, 1984. Other archival statements and statements made in 1996 confirm and further detail conditions at Bhalagwe. (see Part Two, II and a further statement on Bhalagwe, page following).

….On 7 February (1984) in the evening we were taken by truck to Bhalagwe Camp. We reached Bhalagwe around 5 p.m. having left around 3 p.m. When we arrived we found many people at Bhalagwe, some of whom were being beaten.

We were separated men from women into barracks to sleep. In each barracks soldiers were counting up to 136 people, and if there were not 136 others would be brought in to make up the numbers.

We were arranged in three rows, two rows along the walls and one row in the middle of the building. We slept on our sides because we were told to squeeze since there was no room. We slept in our clothes with no blankets. We were not allowed to go out to the toilet at night, but in the morning we could do so under escort.

On Wednesday morning about 8 a.m. we were taken out one by one to another barracks building where we were either beaten or given electric shocks. When the number got up to five we were then taken back to our barracks.

I myself was only beaten, but I saw others being given electric shocks, and when they fainted, water was thrown on them. What I saw is that they put a wire into the mouth of the victim which is secured by strings that are attached to his ears. The other wire is put at his back. This second wire is placed on and off the back of the person. Four people in army uniform, two men and two women did the electric torturing while the victim was lying down.

There were many barracks where they were taking people for beating and electric shock.

Six school boys of whom I was one, plus two soldiers counted the women. This is how I came to know there were 856 women in the camp. This counting took place on 11 February in the morning. Then later the same day four soldiers and six schoolgirls counted the men. After this the soldiers announced to us that the total number of men in the camp was one thousand, and that of women eight hundred and fifty six. The soldiers announced to both men and women these final figures.

The prisoners from Sun Yet Sen were assigned to two barracks while those from Matopo, Plumtree, Gwanda and Belingwe(Mberengwa) were assigned one barracks each.

They brought us to Bhalagwe to get information about dissidents. Questions about this were asked during the beatings.

In the morning we used to dig graves, dig toilets, wash army clothes, wash pots, fetch firewood.

We were given food and water to drink only on alternative days, i.e. skipping one day when we got neither food nor water. The young men dug the graves, and the old people buried those who died each day in the camp. Those who died must have died because of beatings and electric shock. I saw two in my own sleeping barracks who were found dead one morning.

I was at the camp from 7 – 17 February. Until I left we were being beaten every day.

On 16 February, all school children were made to sit according to their respective schools and home areas, counted, and sent back to barracks.

On 17 February, all school children were told that we were going home. Then trucks took us to our homes for going to school.

In Bhalagwe camp the barracks had asbestos walls and asbestos roofs. Because I knew the place, I know that there were neither soldiers nor prisoners at this camp before the curfew was imposed in February.

At the camp I pretended to be a student, although I had left school after Form 1, end of 1983, because I had heard in other areas the soldiers tended to treat scholars slightly better.

I came to Bulawayo by army puma on 17 February because I had told them I was schooling in Bulawayo.

When I left home there was widespread hunger. Stores were closed; no buses were running except government transport. Soldiers were harrassing people. I have since heard that some people were dying of hunger. I heard this from a teacher who had come to buy food at the end of February.

The data relating to Bhalagwe may bear some comparison with genocide survivors, such as those from the Nazi era or Cambodian survivors from the Pol Pot regime. The data from both these periods indicate very high rates of morbidity amongst survivors. However, those at Bhalagwe were usually detained for a few weeks or months, as opposed to years.

Even within these few weeks , detainees would suffer torture, deprivation, witness executions and torture, and suffer massive psychological abuse, ethnic in its focus. Their detention was also occurring in the context of a larger and more sustained attack on all living in their region at that time.

The most outstanding example of deprivation in the 1980s, because it affected so many people, was the use of the food embargo, denying access to food and other commodities and services during the early months of 1984. This resulted in the intimidation and near-starvation of 400 000 civilians. While drought is a common experience in Matabeleland, the food embargo clearly stands out in people’s memories as a separate type of experience – that of state induced hunger.

The curfew months were also accompanied by rallies at which specific threats were made: it is likely that many were deeply traumatised by these experiences, and it is probable that the whole process of drought relief that has been so common-place in the southern parts of Zimbabwe brings back traumatic memories for many survivors. The following speech was made at a rally, 3 weeks after the food embargo had been in force.

CCJP have it on file as a sworn statement, dated 8 March 1984.

On Thursday, 23 February (1984), the soldiers called a meeting at Sibomvu (in Gwanda district, Mat South). I went there. The soldiers were under the shade of a big Ntenjane tree while the people sat around in the sun. The meeting was from 12 to 4 p.m.. After that they told us there would be no curfew that evening because some people had come from very far.

Their leader told us that his name was Jesus. “I am one of the leaders of the Gukuruhundi”, he said.

These are some of the things he said at the meeting: he had some gallons of blood in his car. The blood came from people. His life is to drink human blood. He wanted more blood because his supply was running low. They had come to this place to kill, not to play. They had come to kill the Mandebele because the dissidents were found only in their area and not in Mashonaland.

Commander Jesus said he found his boys doing nothing – beating up people instead of killing them. He did not mind thousands of people being killed.

“You are going to eat eggs, after eggs hens, after hens goats, after goats cattle. Then you shall eat cats, dogs, and donkeys. Then you are going to eat your children. After that you shall eat your wives. Then the men will remain, and because dissidents have guns, they will kill the men and only dissidents will remain. That’s when we will find the dissidents.

Commander Jesus spoke in Shona while one of the soldiers translated into Ndebele.

The ordinary soldiers are better. They go around nicely asking about dissidents and then they go their way. If these ordinary soldiers came we would be prepared to tell them the truth.

But with 5 Brigade, truth or lies, the result is the same.

Experiences at such rallies, or detention experiences, could very easily have caused Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (see section following) in the sufferers, both acutely at the time, and chronically in continued disorder since.

Apart from the deliberate policy of deprivation embodied in Bhalagwe and in the food embargo, there were instances in the 1980s when deprivation existed, but probably unintentionally so. As previously pointed out, “normal” detention conditions even when not deliberately worsened by the authorities, often resulted in deprivation and torture to those experiencing them. Those detained, for example at Stops Camp in Bulawayo, have reported appalling detention conditions, including overcrowding and lack of sanitation and food, but it can not be concluded that this was the result of a deliberate policy: it was more likely the result of indifference to the situation of detainees.

Sleep deprivation was a consequence of the week-end long pungwes held in Matabeleland in 1983/4, although it is unlikely that rallies resulted in less than 4 hours’ sleep a night. Mission staff reported their concern at the effect of these enforced gatherings on their school-age children, who were exhausted by Monday morning after a weekend of forced attendance at rallies, where they were not only deprived of sleep and recreational time, but were subjected to having to witness violence and verbal abuse (CCJP archives).

3.SENSORY OVERSTIMULATION

Sensory stimulation is often used as a method of torture of persons in detention, but it does not seem to be so common in community settings. The aim behind sensory stimulation, which is often erroneously termed “brain washing”, is to cause mental confusion and distress, and psychological studies of sensory deprivation, one kind of sensory manipulation, have clearly demonstrated the damaging effects of such abuse. For example, people subjected to constant “white noise”, or other forms of constant stimulation, rapidly show signs of stress, even to the point of beginning to hallucinate if it goes on long enough.

TABLE 4.

TYPES OF SENSORY OVERSTIMULATION

(From Rasmussen.1990)

Constant noises. Screams and voices. Powerful lights. Constant lighting. Special devices. Drugs.

All of these can be used deliberately, or can be part of the background to detentions. For example, many people have been tortured in settings where they can hear the sounds of others being tortured too, and will talk about how terrible it was to hear the screams and voices of their comrades. This could have been a deliberate policy on the part of the torturers, but is frequently due to their indifference to whether other prisoners can hear or not.

SENSORY OVERSTIMULATION IN THE 1980s

The specific effects of overstimulation are difficult to produce in a community setting, since they require a controlled environment in which the perpetrator can exercise maximum control over the kinds of stimulation that a person can receive. Overstimulation is therefore reported only amongst those who were detained in interrogation centres or at Bhalagwe Camp. Deliberate deprivation is more commonly reported than overstimulation. This is similar to the findings from Mashonaland studies and those of war veterans.

Detainees have frequently recalled how having to listen to the screams of others being tortured added to their own terror, but it is not clear whether the keeping of people in close proximity to the torture cells was the result of indifference, or deliberation. The following account is taken from the CCJP Report on Torture.

While at Stops camp people were tortured. One boy was so badly beaten and bleeding in the face that I doubt if he is alive. People were being tortured and beaten until around 2 a.m. in the night and at 8 a.m. in the morning we heard screams and cries. They use electric shock and the water and cords for torture…

Those at Bhalagwe have also described how torture and interrogation began at 5.30 a.m. every day, and how from that time on, the camp resounded with screams. Apart from these types of reports, “over stimulation” as a method of torture does not seem to have been widely used.

A few high level political detainees have reported some of these more sophisticated forms of torture, such as being kept in continually lit cells.

Gukurahundi Massacres: Human Remains (Part 15)

Taken from a report on the 1980’s disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands. Compiled by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, March 1997.

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