Fifty-year-old Rosemary Chiadzwa of Ward 30 in Chiadzwa village was in the company of her niece at a business centre widely known as maSugar Sugar in Marange in Manicaland where she sells vegetables to support her family when the horror unfolded.
What appeared like any normal working day one afternoon in 2015 soon became a traumatic lifetime experience for the two.
Chiadzwa and her niece were about to head home when a joint army and police reaction team descended on the business centre to arrest suspected diamond dealers.
The two were caught up in the melee and were apprehended by a soldier who ordered Chiadzwa to go, leaving behind her niece in his custody.
“I thought my niece was also going to be set free so I went straight home.
“She eventually got home, only to tell me that she had been se_xually abused by the soldier without her consent or protection in exchange of her freedom,” Chiadzwa recalls the ordeal.
This incident may have happened nearly seven years ago, but the se_xual abuses have intensified over the years says Chiadzwa who now lives in constant fear of being rap_ed herself.
Chiadzwa, who lost her husband in 2005, said her marital status has made her a soft target of soldiers, who have been making se_xual advances towards her.
She says her children and grandchildren are now being used as hostages as they are arbitrarily arrested as a way to force her into giving in to the se_xual advances.
“What we are going through in Chiadzwa as women is very painful, especially now that they know that I’m a widow,” Chiadzwa said.
“They come at my house even in the middle of the night asking whether there are any diamond dealers inside.
“But they know it’s just me, my three children and three grandchildren.
“I now live in constant fear of being rap_ed at any moment.”
Chiadzwa’s case characterises the experiences of many women in the vast diamond concession who are either into vending or run small shops to support their families as job opportunities from diamond companies are hard to come by.
“Soldiers are not doing their core business,” said Marvelous Mawoyo of Tinoengana village, who sells fruits and vegetables.
“They are supposed to protect the community and not harass us.
“If they propose to you and you reject the proposal they will make your life difficult.
“And they don’t care whether you are married or not.”
Ellen Nyadongo of Chiadzwa village who also sells vegetables, recalled one night when she got arrested and ended up being physically assaulted after she refused to submit to se_xual advances made by a soldier, who had arrested her.
Queen Mutamba of Chirasika village, who sells eggs and clothes, said at times the security agents forcefully take away their wares “if we can’t pay the fine”.
It emerged that when the soldiers assist female villagers climb into the military or police trucks, they indecently touch their private parts and force them to interlock legs with men who would have also been apprehended.
The villagers said their daughters were also being impreg_nated by members of the security forces.
Investigations supported by Information for Development Trust (IDT) — a non-profit making outfit probing bad governance — showed that Marange women were subjected to an array of gross human rights violations and crimes.
These ranged from arbitrary arrests, detentions, extortion, bribes and se_xual abuses.
While cases of se_xual abuses were mainly attributed to military personnel, it was also found that police officers were working in cahoots with their army counterparts to abuse their authority by arbitrarily arresting bona fide Marange villagers during raids meant to clamp down on diamond dealers.
Police and army are equally involved in corruption where they order arrested villagers to pay $2 000 in bribes (at the time of the investigation) to secure their release or risk detention at a security base for three nights where they are made to sing continuously without food and are subjected to manual labour.
Moreover, state security personnel demand bribes of between US$5 to US$10 from small business owners operating at various business centres in Marange.
Bars are made to pay as much as US$50.
“We are told that the money is for shop licences,” said Irene Sithole, who runs a shop at maSugar Sugar business centre.
Sithole said the Mutare Rural District Council (RDC), which oversees the area, has not been issuing shop licenses to Marange businesses since it is a protected area.
This, she added has created an environment conducive for corruption.
“Generally, they charge between US$5 to US$10 per raid but no receipts are given,” Sithole said.
“At one point I paid US$80 for a shop license valid for one month, which is too much.
“Recently I was arrested on allegations that I was keeping gwejas (diamond dealers) at my shop.
“The charges are absurd, how can I tell whether people who hang around or frequent my shop are diamond dealers or not?” she wondered.
Investigations indicated that Mutare RDC is not accepting any new applications for shop licences.
New licences are only accepted under stringent conditions where the authority receives written recommendations from the diamond concession holders.
Mutare RDC has the sole responsibility to issue shop licences to all legal businesses in the eastern border district comprising Marange and Zimunya communal lands after paying the relevant fees and adherence to planning and health requirements.
The annual fees paid by operators in Marange could not be established as the council indicated that they vary according to business classes.
Community led audits identified up to 11 army and police bases broken down as three each in Chiadzwa and Tonhorai villages; one each in Tinoengana, Tarindwa, Chishingwi, Mkwada and Kusena villages.
The audits also identified up to six business centres, namely maSugar Sugar, maCrush, Chingome, Machangwa, Chimbiya, and Tenda with a population of over 300 small and big shops.
It was gathered through these community led audits that the various army and police bases, including ZRP Bambazonke take turns to raid the centres at least twice a week where they net up to US$6 000 in bribes.
“Bambazonke police say that they are sent by Mutare RDC to collect money for shop licences,” said Sithole.
However, inquiries with Mutare RDC chief executive officer Shepherd Chinaka indicated otherwise.
“Council has no knowledge of bribes being paid to police or army.
“We recommend those who have encountered such situations to report to the relevant authorities,” said Chinaka.
Zimbabwe National Army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Alfios Makotore said any allegations with a criminal element levelled against soldiers must be directed to the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).
ZRP spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi issued a stern warning against rogue officers.
“ZRP is not aware,” Nyathi said.
“We appeal for people to come and report those cases either in Mutare or directly to our headquarters, so that investigations are conducted.
“If there are any members of the forces involved in any cases of corruption or (se_xual) abuse, I assure you they will be dealt with accordingly.
“But firstly, we encourage those making the allegations to make formal reports.”
However, it was gathered that reports have previously been made without any arrests being made as the security agents devise means to protect the perpetrators.
“They remove or hide their force numbers when they are committing the crimes.
“If you go to report, the superiors at the bases simply remove the officer from the parade and the matter ends there.
“I think they also take advantage of us. They see us as mere villagers, who are ignorant of their rights,” said Otilia Chipise (59) of Muedzengwa village.
The villagers appealed to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to intervene and put an end to the series of se_xual abuses and extortion cases in Marange involving security agents.
“I think they should be able to clearly differentiate between gwejas and bona fide villagers,” said Rosemary Changadzi of Muedzengwa village, who sells fruits and vegetables.
“We need to be protected by way of law, and IDs can be used to prove that. But the problem are the soldiers.
“They pretend to be illiterate and order you to show their bosses at the bases only for you to spend three nights there.
“So, they should be instructed that their business is not to harass members of the community before they are deployed,”
Records from the Mines ministry indicate that there is a total of 4 300 families that were up for relocation in the vast diamond concessions.
However, additional records from the Mutare district administrator’s office indicated that only 1 100 families were relocated to Arda Transau Relocation Area.
Technically, this leaves out a total of 3 200 families still trapped in the diamond fields and undergoing untold challenges at the hands of state security agents.
The Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) is on record acknowledging human rights violations by security forces.
ZCDC’s private security has undergone several human rights trainings spearheaded by the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association to better their conduct within communities.
Over the years, state security agents have been accused of gross human rights violations and fuelling organised diamond pilferage.
When ZCDC took over the former diamond fields, its former acting chief executive officer Roberto De Pretto also said while there were no security problems under their claims, serious security breaches were emanating from areas protected by state security.
— The Standard