My work as front line defender of girls rights in Zimbabwe

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Rape is something deeper and stronger than all the stories we get from films and the media. If there is one horrific experience a rape victim dares not share with anyone even with the best counselor or psychologist in the world is the feeling that comes out of being raped. I have always equated rape to murder for the simple reason that for a young girl aged say three, rape leaves permanent injuries and scars, fears and anxiety and the psychological trauma.

I am aware that there is a belief that one can be healed after a rape. But for myself, a rape victim at age seven who was afforded opportunities to heal through expert counselors I still feel that this crime is unforgivable and unforgettable. I am not trying to discourage therapists from working with rape survivors but I am trying to seek ways in which therapists can deal more effectively with would be rapists so that they respect human life especially when they rape babies as young as six months old.

I have extensively worked in at least 2000 cases with girls aged sixteen and below in Zimbabwe. Every rape case necessitates justice against the devil that has committed it, no matter the reason it was committed.

I vividly recall that my intervention in the rape cases directly and indirectly led to turmoil within me, at my work and within family circles. I do not of course regret that I put my life at risk through the following rape cases

A twelve year old girl was sexually abused by a so called war vet who immediately terrorized her Christian family. For some time the whole family was gripped with fear and asked that I look after their daughter at a safe place. Finally the law caught up with this man and now he received up to fifteen years in jail.

In the run up to the presidential elections in 2002 a certain man sexually abused up to thirty girls during an election campaign until the law caught up with him and though a lot of girls had succumbed to his sexual adventures and purportedly got impregnated and now are struggling to look after the babies, I understand he is in police custody at the moment and it has been proved beyond doubt that he is not a war vet .

In yet another incident in June of 2003 I spent the greater part of my night on police night patrols with the police just to make sure that they instantly arrest one big man within the Labour Union and a strong supporter of one big opposition political party in my country. When we went to take him by the night he just looked at me with the most terrifying eyes but that shook me less and I went back home after making sure he was in police custody. His wife’s younger sister he sexually abused will not sit for her final ordinary level exams as this is the time she will deliver her baby

In June 2002 again I had a horrible experience of attending to some fourteen girls one of them mentally disturbed who were being sexually abused by a self styled traditional healer who moved through place to place claiming he had powers to cleanse families of witchcraft. He actually turned all fourteen girls aged fifteen and below into his sex slaves and the law caught up with him again.

A case of a girl aged two and half years whose mother was mentally disturbed and sexually abused by his neighbor was a blow to me. One man labeled us members of the opposition party and had our activities banned in some remote parts of the country.

The Guvheya case in particular was a total blow to my activism, maybe. I remember the poor mother of Nyasha (not real name) relating that on Christmas day she caught this perpetrator red handed raping her daughter and immediately he offered to marry the thirteen year old girl. Although she reported the case to the police the police were reluctant to assist her. She is one empowered woman who stood up to her daughters’ case up until she went to the office of the Attorney General but it appears nothing materialized. The rapist later boasted that she could go nowhere with the case as he had bribed the whole system. Quite shocking indeed!!!!!.I tried to put up a real fight to a point where my real story begins

After intervening in this case for two weeks, four unknown men attacked my house, hit my front door into pieces .I was saved from death by some kind neighbours. Since the men only identified themselves as my killers and up to now have not been caught I treasure the fact that I am still alive.

As if this unfortunate incident was not enough, the department of Social Welfare ordered us to immediately seize our operations even though our organization had been registered as a Trust. What followed this directive was a well orchestrated plan to defame my person and the organization I had worked so hard to establish. Six armed policemen came to our office in Chitungwiza in June 2001 to arrest me. He could not allow me to say my side of the story. The level of harassment perpetrated against me on 20 June 2001 leaves a lot to be desired. From February 2002 to November 2002 I was in and out of the courts and police cells on charges of running an “illegal organisation”.

I knew I was not going to survive this blow at all as I had been overtaken by events. There was a well orchestrated plan to embarrass me and to make me the worst female criminal in the country and that would guarantee my total downfall. Indeed I had come as a strong force challenging the way some cases of rape had been handled in court and police with the assistance of the so called victim friendly courts.

My testimony is not an attack on the whole police force but on certain unprofessional individuals who unnecessarily make the work of women human rights activists like myself unbearable

In activism they say when the going gets tough cowards chicken out and an activist in the truest sense stays put. The charge pressed against me was that between 1999 to 2001 we had collected public funds illegally. The list of other allegations went on and on. They initially had twelve charges against me and they dropped all but the one on illegal organisation.

This caused serious confusion and dissent in the ranks of my own organization – many of my supporters did not want to hear my side of the story. Some of the donors withdrew funds. But I seemed to become bullet proof to these attacks. Withdrawal of funds did not stop me from working as I had intervened in many cases with no money. I was later saved from total collapse by one donor who heard my true side of the story. My girls, of course, were my true ambassadors for they continued giving moral support and expanding the Girl Child Network. This type of activism calls for women of hard metal as I said rape is deeper and stronger!!.

I later discovered that a senior policewoman I had once referred a sexual abuse case which was unfairly dealt with had orchestrated this bullet shooting. Since I had asked for the case to be investigated she said I had gone too far and I had to be fixed. The list of accusations was added to and it was purported that we were an organisation sympathetic to the opposition party. This highly politicized our activities.

This time with political violence on the increase the number of sexually abused girls increased. The cases became complicated especially when rape was perpetrated by some noted political figures from both parties. Despite the closure and serious defamatory statements against me I quietly retreated and operated from underground. Girls knew where to refer each other and what was really pleasing was that an informal network of rape survivors remained intact. If ever there is someone who really fought hard for the ‘Girl Child Network’ to remain intact is the first group of rape survivors of 2000. When our safe house was closed and they were forced to the probation they ran away and came back to join me. They are my source of inspiration. What gives me strength to struggle on is the escalating number of sexual abuse cases I deal with on a daily basis. Hardly a day passes without our center receiving a case of a girl aged below 16 reporting a serious rape case.

I must say our situation is not hopeless. At least our cases of rape are now being fast tracked in court and we have been readmitted into the victim friendly courts forum in Chitungwiza after having been suspended for almost a year. We were readmitted on condition that we do not talk or say anything during the meetings, something we outrightly refused to accept as we thought we could live abnormal lives as the issues we dealt with on a daily basis were rather too sensitive and sharing with others allowed us to debrief. It appears we are now back on the forum with no condition attached.

When a rape case is not heard in court and a poor economically and socially disadvantaged girl is denied justice for life I always throw questions on the moral fabric of our society. I always feel that Girl Child Network belongs to those who want to put a fight to injustices . Now we cannot allow this history of rape to repeat itself

I remember the emotional and psychological trauma I went through. Having said this I am happy to be alive. It is when justice is meted against rapist regardless of social class, political or religious affiliation that gives me strength to carry on

I am an activist and painful as rape is I would let all bullets shoot me rather than watch women and girls languish in pain as a result of rape.

Hazviperi Betty Makoni of Girl Child Network -Zimbabwe