Ward B3 of Gokwe general hospital looks much like any other in Zimbabwe’s decaying medical establishments, denuded of medicines, equipment and doctors by the country’s dramatic economic collapse.
But many of its patients are prisoners in a ”torture centre” for abducted opposition supporters who, on the orders of the army, are denied painkillers and treatment for terrible injuries sustained at the hands of Robert Mugabe’s henchmen.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says that at least 13 of its members are held in the ward. Medical staff say they are mostly kept prisoner in side rooms.
”They have all been heavily assaulted,” said one of the staff. ”Some are burned beyond recognition. Some have broken limbs. They are in serious agony. They have no drugs. They are not allowed to leave. When doctors from the outside tried to bring the medicines they were turned away. So were ambulances to take them to private hospitals with drugs. It is all on the orders of the army and Central Intelligence Organisation.”
Zimbabweans with a first-hand knowledge of Ward B3 say an army major called Ronald Mpofu and a war veteran, David Masvisvi, have ordered medical staff not to allow the men held there to be moved or permitted access to outside doctors or visitors. Occasionally the prisoners are visited by intelligence officers who have photographed and threatened them.
Among those held on the ward is Nomore Jukwa (23). A cellphone picture smuggled out of the hospital shows burns over his upper body after an attack by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF militia last week.
Another man, Gondai Mtetwa, is held in the same room. A picture shows his flesh left raw and exposed by severe burns down his back and left arm.
A lawyer, Capera Sengweni, gained access to the room with Jukwa and Mtetwa on Friday. ”They are both in severe pain but Jukwa is very, very bad. He has no medication and they are not letting him leave to get treatment. They have locked them in the room with orders that no one is to see them,” he said.
Others have been brought to the ward with axe wounds and broken limbs. The MDC says that more than 20 badly injured opposition activists are being held prisoner in similar conditions in four smaller hospitals in the area. Most of the men held against their will are victims of state-orchestrated violence that has continued against the opposition since the widely derided election that returned Mugabe to power a fortnight ago.
The MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, said that the treatment of the men on Ward B3 is further evidence that the state-orchestrated campaign of killings, torture and abductions has continued after the election.
”We have been saying that the regime has been waging war on its own people and this is further proof,” he said. ”This is why it is so urgent that the African Union and UN move so urgently as every day that passes more innocent people are losing their lives in this orgy of violence.”
Last week, Zimbabwe’s mission to the United Nations helped stave off security council sanctions against Mugabe’s regime by warning that they would ”most probably start a civil war”.
But the MDC says a state-orchestrated war is continuing against its activists and supporters to try to beat the party into a political agreement that would see Mugabe retain power. At least nine people have been murdered around Gokwe — traditionally a stronghold of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF — since the election; scores are missing.
Only one of the prisoners on Ward B3 has been able to leave. Bigboy Chakazamba, an MDC councillor who was dragged from his home and beaten by Zanu-PF militia, walked out of Gokwe general on Thursday having persuaded the nurses that he was immediately returning to his rural home.
”They were using logs and steel bars and stones to break my bones. They left me unconscious,” he said.
Chakazamba (41) was held on Ward B3 with a fractured right arm, broken bones in his left hand and a broken nose. His arms were plastered shortly before he left but he received no other treatment.
”At home they thought I was dead. My brother bought a coffin and came to the hospital to collect my corpse. When he got there he found I was alive, but the nurses said he couldn’t have access without permission from Major Mpofu,” he said.
‘MDC is finished here’
The MDC believes the men are being held to prevent them from exposing their injuries to the outside world, particularly those with burns.
A new opposition MP, Costin Muguti, unseated a well-known Zanu-PF official, Leonard Chikomba, who is a relative of Mugabe. After he lost the vote, Chikomba is reported to have said that Muguti would never sit in Parliament. Muguti was arrested by the police and held for nearly three weeks. He says he was severely beaten. It was led by a man he believes to be an intelligence officer named Kuda.
”He said there is no more MDC in this constituency. MDC is finished here. They beat me with knobkerries [clubs] and sticks. They just wanted to cause damage to my head. I couldn’t eat or talk for three days,” said the MP. Muguti was dumped in a police cell and denied medical treatment for more than a week. He was finally released on Thursday.
”The police told me this is just politics. We are also under pressure to carry out certain orders,” he said. ”I am the only MDC MP from Gokwe. They have made threats against me. They have a belief that Gokwe is a Zanu-PF stronghold and I think they might even kill me to create a by-election.”
Several attempts have been made to get treatment to the men on Ward B3 or move them to hospitals in Harare, but the military and CIO have blocked them.
The opposition persuaded a group of doctors from a foreign aid agency to visit the hospital to help the prisoners, but when they arrived they were directed to another ward and misled into believing they were seeing the abducted men.
Two ambulances dispatched to move the men to private hospitals in Harare were blocked, their drivers interrogated for 18 hours and then turned away.
Most of Zimbabwe’s state hospitals are desperately short of medicines because of a lack of foreign currency to import them. But Sengweni said that by refusing to allow the men to be moved to private hospitals which do have drugs, or aid organisations to deliver medicines to the men, the military is deliberately keeping them in pain.
”To detain anyone in a government hospital right now is to deny them access to medication,” he said. – guardian.co.uk