Male rape, the latest weapon for Mugabe's men

Male rape, the latest weapon for Mugabe's men

Men as young as 15 are being raped at youth training centres across Zimbabwe in what the opposition claims is a concerted effort by President Robert Mugabe's government to crush dissent. Out of 52 male torture victims I interviewed, 38 claim to have been raped or forced to engage in anal sex with other victims.

The men accuse the police, army, militia and Mugabe's dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) of widespread sexual assaults, which they say are part of a nationwide terrorisation of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

In January, Patrick Ndhlovu (23), who worked as a political assistant to an MDC MP, was questioned by the CIO at a camp in the south of the country. His head was forced into a bucket of water during the interrogation. "They kept asking me to recite the local MDC membership list, which has thousands of people on it. But as soon as I tried to say some names, they would drown me again. Finally, they threw me into a corner and said they were going to dinner, but that if I was hungry I should drink more water."

Late that night, one CIO officer returned with two men from the youth militia, who are loyal to Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party. "They removed all my clothing, then one of the militia put on a condom and raped me . . . I was crying and there was a lot of blood. Then the second militia did the same thing . . . When it was over, they put me in handcuffs and chains and left me without my clothes."

After his ordeal, Ndhlovu fled across the border to South Africa and now shares a room in Johannesburg with four other victims.

Gay sex is illegal in Zimbabwe and Mugabe is notoriously homophobic. He has denounced lesbians and gay men as "worse than pigs and dogs", declaring that they have no rights and should leave the country. Yet male rape is becoming a common method of abuse. The MDC secretary for international affairs, Sekai Holland, told me: "This is not casual sex. It is a concerted campaign to terrorise our members. Even one of our MPs was raped by ten men, and we are trying to counsel him to go public about the attack."

More than two million black Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa and a local support group believes that as many as 200,000 are crossing the border every day.

A doctor in Johannesburg, who asked not to be named, is providing free medical treatment to 14 of the exiles. "In their culture, rape is worse than death, and all my patients are being treated for depression and mental trauma," he said.

Colin (19), a former bank teller, was detained near the capital city, Harare: the militia forced him to perform oral sex on four of their leaders. Another victim, who would give his name only as Peter, was arrested by police and youth militia near the southern city of Bulawayo when he failed to produce a Zanu-PF membership card.

"There were about ten of us who had been picked up for the same reason, one boy as young as 15," he recalled. "At the youth training camp, we were all stripped and forced to have sex with each other. Then myself and three of the other men were raped by the militia. Finally, some men arrived wearing police uniforms and they beat us with whips . . . They told us that anyone who was not a member of the ruling party did not count as a human being in Zimbabwe."

Geoff Hill's The Battle for Zimbabwe (New Holland Publishers) will be available in Britain from August