The Magazine

Meet Mugabe's Victims

Thousands have been killed or tortured by the Zimbabwean dictator. Here are the stories of three.

Dec 25, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 15 • By JAMES KIRCHICK
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Harare and Johannesburg

For 17 years, Holly Moyo was one of the many loyal foot soldiers who helped keep the government of Robert Mugabe running. Like his father before him, he served in the Zimbabwean Republic Police, in the southern city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest. He was assigned to the corps that handles crowd control at large protests. Over the past few years especially, as political turmoil increased in this once prosperous southern African nation, his was a busy job.

Like most black Zimbabweans, the 42-year-old husband and father once was a supporter of Robert Mugabe. "I still remember when he was in jail," Moyo says, citing the ten-year period that began in 1964. Mugabe became a Mandela-like figure for the country's black majority, and in 1980 was elected president in the country's first democratic vote. Zimbabwe soon posted high literacy and economic growth. But by the time of the 2002 presidential election, Moyo wanted change. "Our economy was going to the dogs," he said. And things have only gotten worse since. The country is now crippled by 80 percent unemployment, astronomical inflation rates, and massive shortages of food.

Many wonder why Zimbabwe has not experienced an armed revolt under Mugabe. One hears the complaint, especially among blacks in the region, that Zimbabwean blacks are too docile, too kind, too respectful of authority for their own good. "The people are resigned," a Zimbabwean journalist told me. But there are other reasons a coup--at least a coup emanating from the military or security forces--is unlikely. One is the lingering awe for Mugabe as liberation leader that some still no doubt feel. The most acute reason, however, is that any dissent within the security forces, even from low-ranking officers, is met with a strong show of force.

Consider Holly Moyo's experience. In the run-up to the March 2002 election, Moyo says, officers from the Police Internal Security Intelligence (PISI) infiltrated the police so as "to find out who was against Mugabe." As every major election-observer group (except, notably, African ones) would confirm, "Mugabe incorporated the police into his own instruments" for stealing the election.

So when the election finally rolled around, Moyo decided to take a risk and call in sick. Police officers vote at their workplaces, under the careful eye of their superiors, not at neutral locations like town halls or civic centers. Moyo says he and his colleagues were told by their boss, "You put your 'X' on ZANU-PF," the ruling party. "They said our salary is being paid for by Mugabe," Moyo recalls. "But it is being paid for by the common people." Moyo figured that his secret ballot was the only weapon he had to use against the dictatorship. To him, the risk was worth it.

Moyo's ploy failed. A plainclothes police spy saw him at a public polling place on Election Day and reported him immediately to his supervisors. "We know whom you voted for," Moyo was told. The police spy even described what Moyo had been wearing.

"My vote is my secret," Moyo responded. He was told, "The only secrets belong to ZANU-PF," and handed a resignation form, which he refused to sign. In a country with such a weak economy, his job was his only means of caring for his wife and children.

When he got home that day, he found PISI officers searching his house. They beat him, and his parents told him to "leave because you are going to die."

But Moyo chose to stay, even to become more forthright in his politics. He began taking the Daily News, an independent newspaper, to work, in order to share it covertly with like-minded officers. The Daily News had suffered firebomb attacks on its Harare office; it would eventually be shut down.

Moyo was a dutiful employee of the police force, but he took seriously his public servant's pledge to uphold the rule of law. In late 2003, in spite of the certain political repercussions, he oversaw the arrest of 37 ZANU-PF supporters for rioting. This was the last straw. He and others were accused of being "British spies and stooges." He was forced to sign resignation papers, was dismissed from the force in February 2004 with a pittance for severance pay, and his house was put under 24-hour surveillance by the security forces.

But it was only in October that year that things spiraled out of control. "They came to me during the night," Moyo recalled, familiar words to many a Zimbabwean. At around 11 P.M., when he was on his way home from town, six or seven men emerged from a Land Rover and began to beat him. "They said I was going to die for Tsvangirai," he said, Morgan Tsvangirai being the leader of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. The men took a knife to his genitals, and Moyo soon passed out.