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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His wife found him. "My wife screamed, she screamed. There was blood everywhere." Parts of his mutilated penis were on his knee. Neighbors took him to the hospital where administrators gave him a bed but denied him treatment, other than painkillers, for four days. Thanks to sympathetic nurses who took him into their care, the damage was not as bad as it could have been, but his testicles were "cut into pieces" and the scars of his skinned penis will never go away. His wife was jailed for eight days for making a report to the police.

After a week, he was discharged. Unable to obtain painkillers once he left the hospital, he started drinking heavily to dull the pain. He keeps photos of his wounds--"in case we want to go to court one day."

Moyo believed it was only a matter of time before the government returned to finish the job. He felt he had no choice but to leave Zimbabwe. He sent his children to his parents' home, and on December 30, 2004, friends helped push him through his bathroom window at 3 in the morning so that the men watching his house would not see him escape. He and his wife now live in South Africa, in a tiny, one-room house--apartheid-era servant's quarters in the backyard of a luxury home--in a tony northern suburb of Johannesburg. He hasn't seen his children for almost two years. He was lucky to receive political asylum. A Zimbab wean exile organization helped cover the costs of reconstructive surgery.

As he tells me this, and shows me a photo of his younger self as a proud police officer in uniform, Moyo is in tears. "Things are going to be okay in Zimbabwe one day," he tells me. "We are going to go back home."

Dean du Plessis is one of the few white people left in Zimbabwe. He is 29 years old and blind. Most impressive about this remarkable man who displays more joie de vivre than most people who can see is that he has made a name for himself as a cricket commentator on the radio. He broadcasts daily from 5 to 6 P.M. on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and has also done commentary for the BBC. He thinks he is the first blind sportscaster in the world. For most of his schooling, he attended the Pioneer School for the Blind, in South Africa. Aside from his disability, he is a regular guy. "I like girls, good beer, and loud music," he tells me when I meet him at a favorite bar.

But he too has been a victim of the Mugabe regime, and his story shows how depraved it has become.

To understand what happened to Dean du Plessis, one must first understand something about Zimbabwean cricket. The national cricket team, like nearly every other facet of Zimbabwean life, has been forcibly politicized in recent years. It used to be one of the best cricket teams, if not the best, in the world. But at around the same time Mugabe began authorizing violent seizures of white-owned farms, he packed the Zimbabwe Cricket Union with ZANU-PF hacks. In April 2004, Heath Streak, one of the country's best cricketers and the national team's captain, was forced to resign over disputes related to racial quotas that led to the firing of many white players. Over the past several years, black and white players alike have quit as a result of political differences with those in charge. In a December 2005 broadcast, du Plessis stated the obvious about the condition of Zimbabwean cricket. "I criticized the people that run Zimbabwe cricket," he told me matter-of-factly. "They don't know anything about the sport."

The day after his broadcast, two men came to the Harare Toyota dealership where du Plessis works as a customer service representative. They told him to come with them. Although du Plessis could not see them, he knew what they had in mind. Still, du Plessis did not make a scene. "I didn't want to cause any attention," he says. "I didn't want anyone else to get involved; it's not fair on them."

The two men drove him for about a half hour, took him to an air-conditioned room, and sat him in what he describes as a "comfortable chair." They then played a recording of the broadcast in question.

"Is that you?" one of the men asked.

"You can hear my voice," du Plessis responded. "Why are you asking me?"

Disappointed with his insubordination, the men twisted his feet and beat his soles with a fan belt for half an hour. This is a form of torture common in Mugabe's Zimbabwe, and human rights NGOs have reported its being perpetrated against many individuals. Known as "falanga," it is used in other locales and is popular with dictatorships because it leaves few visible signs as the soles of the feet are thick and tough.

Up until our interview, du Plessis had not spoken of this torment.