Accusations of torture in the Marange diamond fields have been made by the UK television programme Panorama, which aired on Monday August 8. Interviews with ex-soldiers who worked at the camp in the Zengeni area of the Marange fields, which is known locally as “Diamond Base” and which may have been operating for three years, described how rape was a “normal” occurrence, beatings were administered three times a day and mock drownings and burnings were also staged.
Marange diamonds have been banned from international markets since 2009, due to the devastating attempts by the Zimbabwean government to clear illegal diamond panners from the area in 2008. At the end of October around 1,500 troops surrounded the diamond fields on foot and by helicopter, gunning down not only those who were mining for diamonds but also the 1,000 or so residents of the makeshift town that had sprung up. This was part of "Operation Hakudzokwe" which translates as Operation “You Shall Never Return”, a three-week attack in which people were beaten, raped, mauled by dogs and shot.
ZANU-PF acknowledge that there was an operation to clear illegal miners from the Marange fields, but deny that anyone was killed in the process. However, Panorama were able to access over 250 hospital entries, 53 written testimonies and 80 death records of unnamed victims. They also had evidence that this was ordered in the same way as any large-scale military operation would be. General Constantine Chiwenga travelled to the area at the time, and the helicopters used were from Air Marshall Perence Shiri’s base – implicating two of the men who, alongside Mugabe, were heavily involved in the 1980s gukurahundi killings.
Furthermore, between 69-105 bodies from the 2008 massacre were buried in a mass grave in Mutare, one of the towns nearest to the diamond fields. A worker at the cemetery described the burial: “The body parts were packed in black plastic bags. You could actually see the bones piercing through the plastic. Blood was dripping everywhere. It was disgusting." Other bodies were left in shallow graves nearer Marange, some were loosely covered by leaves, whereas others were left in clusters by the sides of fields.
These tactics were described as being typical of ZANU PF by Joost Fontein, editor of the Journal of Southern African Studies and co-founder of “The Bones Collective”. Using both torture and the prevention of proper burials, Zanu PF is able to disrupt both culturally and physically the ways in which their enemies’ bodies are contained and mourned. Speaking to Think Africa Press, Dr Fontein explained how, “torture interrupts the material process through which people are constituted. Just as violence against dead people interrupts the ritual and material processes through which dead people are constituted and transformed into safe benevolent ancestors”.
By torturing bodies when they are alive and denying them appropriate burials, Zanu PF are able to assert their power over Zimbabwean citizens up to, and beyond, death. An example of how, according to Didier Fassin, “there is no politics of life that doesn’t have politics of death on the horizon”. As Panorama discovered when it interviewed ex-policeman and guards from the “Diamond Base” camp, it was the police and the soldiers who ran the camp as extensions of the state. These men were taught brutality in their training and implemented it as policy. Footage has been uncovered showing how basic police training involved beating men repeatedly with a large stick or baton and, according to the BBC, this was taken to the extreme within the camp itself.
The mutilation of the dead was a feature of the gukurahundi. Dr. Fontein notes that the 2008 elections were, “also accompanied by a new wave of disturbances involving dead bodies”. He cites the case of Tonderai Ndira, a Movement for Democratic Change activist, who was abducted, mutilated and murdered. His body was recovered in Parirenyatwa Hospital’s morgue by other MDC members who found him “unrecognisable”. But even after he was buried “state security agents” visited Warren Hill cemetery, “furious that murdered MDC activists are being buried there” and attempted to exhume his grave.
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