the rape and torture of zimbabwean women…that’s zim’s problem says south africa

IRIN News (of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) published a story discussing how the South African government is being condemned because of its ‘complete silence’ concerning the high rates of rape reported by Zimbabwean women at the hands of Zimbabwean security forces who are applying for asylum in South Africa. In first reading this article, I thought that the problems with asylum were simply an issue of capacity and administrative shortage. However, after reading South African spokesman Vincent Hlongwane’s take on the situation I learned that there were other issues at play:

He said South Africa did not “believe in talking down” to Zimbabwe, which was a “sovereign state”. “It is for the people of Zimbabwe to resolve their problems themselves,” he said. “We can only assist them. Besides, the former Tanzanian president [Benjamin] Mkapa has been mandated by the AU to help Zimbabwe, and we have full confidence in his abilities.”

The Zimbabwe Torture Victims/Survivors Project (ZTVP) in Johannesburg has been collecting narratives from these women, publishing a report called ‘Women on the Run: Female Survivors of Torture Amongst Zimbabwean Asylum Seekers and Refugees in South Africa’ which included the following story:

“She [X] tried to resist. She was trampled upon, and burnt with a cigarette on her thighs and buttocks. The perpetrator ejaculated inside her vagina and smeared his semen all over her body. He also urinated on her. He did this so that she could not forget the experience. She was taken back to Harare police station and instructed to bathe herself. She was also threatened with death should she inform anyone,” said the report.

This woman was raped in April by police after she attended an MDC (Movement for Democratic Change)–an opposition party. The report suggested that the perpetrators of this violence of ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) as well as state agents from Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), policy and army. Many of the women interviewed noted being involved in political activities while in Zimbabwe (67%) and many (43%) said they were members of the MDC opposition party.

In first reading this article, I thought that the problems with asylum were simply an issue of capacity and administrative shortage. However, after reading South African spokesman Vincent Hlongwane’s take on the situation I learned that there were other issues at play:

He said South Africa did not “believe in talking down” to Zimbabwe, which was a “sovereign state”. “It is for the people of Zimbabwe to resolve their problems themselves,” he said. “We can only assist them. Besides, the former Tanzanian president [Benjamin] Mkapa has been mandated by the AU to help Zimbabwe, and we have full confidence in his abilities.”

Does South Africa have a greater obligation in confronting the abuses in Zimbabwe? Does passivity or indifference make the South African government in some degree complicit? and what do you think of this notion of letting borders dictate involvement? This logic of allowing sovereign nations resolve their own problems certainly did not apply when Mbeki announced that he may be sending peacekeeping troops to Somalia…

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Published on January 16, 2007 at 5:41 am. 14 Comments.
Filed under women's issues/feminism.