The Landscape: Rural terror bases must be found, destroyed


One of the matters that the MDC-T demands be addressed as part of the contentious security sector reforms is the existence of military bases scattered around Zimbabwe which the party says have the sole aim of intimidating the rural electorate. 

Parties to the GPA negotiations and the construction of the electoral roadmap have agreed to deal with that matter.

These known and acknowledged camps could well be disbanded but, while indeed these irregular military establishments may well be a source of electoral discomfiture, the MDC-T may have failed to properly illustrate the real spring of their constituency fear.

So, even after the soldiers have been taken back to the barracks, the party will find itself back at Sadc, this time presenting their real problem.

For years the MDC-T has complained about Zanu PF using a network of informal detention centres manned by war veterans, the Border Gezi “Green Bombers” and overzealous party youths where villagers perceived to be members of or supporters of the former opposition party are beaten, tortured and intimidated.

These secretive bases are not physical identifiable structures that can be visited to gather evidence. They are found at schools, at cattle dip tanks, under trees or along rivers — they are set up within minutes and disbanded equally fast.

These are the places where people lost limbs during the bloody June 2008 presidential rerun election campaign when victims were asked to choose between “short sleeve and long sleeve” — to make a choice between having your arm chopped off at the elbow or at the wrist!

These are the detention centres that villagers are scared of.

The MDC-T can only make claims and, of course bring the “short or long-sleeved” victims of these terror bases as evidence, but Zanu PF will never agree there are any such places and for sure, investigators will not find them because they are set up and dismantled overnight.

The idea is to instill fear among the villagers and ensure they do not dare, as happened in Maron 2008, “vote wrongly”. It is when fear becomes part of the social fabric of society that the spoils of abused power become most lucrative.

But this “new” level of violence is only relative to the horrific tempest that was unleashed in the run-up to and aftermath of the 2008 presidential rerun.

At the same time it is far more a symptom of the overriding apathy and uneasiness with which millions are now living under, than any indication that people are more secure.

At the heart of this climate of fear are the graduates of the Zimbabwe National Youth Service or youth militia, as they have become known. These youths have a variety of local names. The “Zanu PF militia”, the “Border Gezi Green Bombers” or the “Taliban”.

Despite efforts by Zanu PF, under massive pressure from Sadc to down play the role of the militia (they have responded by absorbing them into existing State security apparatus — the army and the police), their impact on society has been formidable and the ongoing effects of their campaign of intimidation and harassment continue.

What is ironic however is that the individual psychosocial trauma of the victims of these militia extends to the Green Bombers, themselves victims of somebody else’s abuse of power.

But this is only part of the effect of the militia campaign. The deep communal trauma that now characterises the social fabric of Zimbabwean society has created a climate of collective fear that closes down any opposition and ensures an acceptance of obedience and a dependence on authority.

We are told the syllabi that the “Green Bombers” go through to graduation is made up of crude propaganda, violence and intimidation to indoctrinate the youths into thinking that their own impunity and abuse of power is an acceptable part of the whole struggle to protect President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF from “regime change agents”.

The sole source of information available to youth in the camps, we are told, is a photocopied history manual called “Inside the Third Chimurenga” which consists only of speeches made by President Mugabe glorifying Zanu PF heroes and vilifying all opposition as part of a neo-imperial onslaught.

But the psychosocial trauma will continue to brew and the roots of conflict in Zimbabwe will grow stronger and deeper.

A social, economic and political crisis will continue to haunt the region for decades to come. What the MDC-T needs to do is to realise the importance of making relevant and clear presentations of facts with regard to the existence and nature of the terror camps.

Calling for the disbandment of military camps at certain designated and known points will not remove the hidden terror bases imbedded in rural communities where traditional leaders are used to prop them up.

The MDC-T must have had this ugly scenario in mind when they put up the issue of military camps and calling for their disbandment.

Unfortunately these deadly fly-by-night death camps will remain because by their nature, they “do not exist” and the MDC-T will not be able to take Sadc to any such camps.