By Helen Kadirire
Zimbabwean women are being urged to wear black clothing tomorrow in solidarity with army rape victims.
The all-black dress code protest — being organised by TsimbaKadzi — is meant to highlight ongoing widespread abuse of women and to stop the disgraceful sexual aggression by the army against defenceless and vulnerable women.
TsimbaKadzi national coordinator Maureen Kademaunga said there will be no street protests as it was unsafe to do so, but called for a big turnout in black in a striking show of disgust with the ongoing sexual harassment and rape.
Amid the intensifying brutal crackdown unfurled by the military and police, rights groups are raising alarm at girls, married women as well as commercial sex workers being raped during house-to-house searches by soldiers.
This comes after Zimbabwe experienced days of social unrest since massive protests erupted across the country on January 14 after a 150 percent hike in fuel prices.
The crackdown which largely targeted high density suburbs in the capital, and the second city of Bulawayo included allegations of gang rape by masked soldiers in balaclavas in what is being seen as a bid to instil fear in communities, imposing their control over the ghettos and as a form of punishment, rights groups have said.
The army has strenuously denied that soldiers were responsible for the rape, and said uniformed perpetrators alleged to be responsible for the abuses were “bogus elements” attempting to sully its image.
“The Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) has noted with concern allegations of misconduct and acts of violence purporting to be members of the organisation. The actions of these bogus elements have subsequently put the image of the organisation into disrepute.
“In view of the foregoing, the ZNA will like to urge members to report any acts of misconduct by anyone purporting to be a member of the organisation using the following Military Police hotline numbers 0712 284318 and 0786452155,” said a statement issued by Alphious Makotore, the director of army public relations.
Rights groups and churches are warning that sexual violence has now reached “alarming levels,” and interventions were urgently needed.
This comes amid reports of children as young as 11 also being sexually assaulted, with some toddlers witnessing their mothers raped.
British free-to-air television channel ITV has flighted interviews with 11 Zimbabwean women who all said they were sexually assaulted and that their attackers were members of the army.
The TV station showed a woman only identified as Melody who recounted how she was raped by two soldiers while her two children watched.
The raped women have received support for speaking up, prompting women rights group TsimbaKadzi to launch tomorrow’s campaign. This comes amid indications many victims are hesitant to come forward.
Kademaunga said the protest was to express displeasure and disgust in what the uniformed forces are doing.
“The purpose of the Wednesday campaign for us is to raise awareness in Zimbabwe and beyond of the atrocities being committed against women by soldiers and to ask Zimbabwean citizens and the international community to take a stand against rape being used as a political weapon by Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government,” she told the Daily News.
“Some victims have come out and are now being bullied and labelled and we are saying that victim labelling must stop.”
She emphasised the need for government to be answerable for all the sexual brutality as women were demanding justice for their ordeals at the hands of the army.
“Over and above this, we demand the immediate withdrawal of the military from our townships, the military is causing untold suffering and must be sent back to the barracks. It is unsafe at this point to take to the streets but if the government does not heed our call, we will be left with no option but to take to the streets in our numbers and peacefully demand justice,” she said.
The women who are now being treated by a local non-governmental organisation, have taken refuge in safe houses as they fear for their lives. Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa has said government would investigate the rape allegations against the army.
The Thokozani Khupe-led MDC has also written to Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri asking her to protect fellow womenfolk against sexual violence by her troops.
“Women in Zimbabwe celebrated your appointment as the first woman Defence minister with the hope that you would ensure the end of State-sponsored brutality against women and sexual violation towards women by members of the security sector in Zimbabwe,” the letter by party spokesperson Linda Masarira said.
“It is despicable that government gave a go-ahead to soldiers to inflict pain and untold suffering to innocent Zimbabweans who are struggling to make ends meet,” she said, exhorting her to “ensure that the army protects the people of Zimbabwe.” Daily News