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Women in Zimbabwe allegedly raped by soldiers ‘as punishment’ for joining protests

A local NGO said it had nine confirmed cases of women from Harare’s townships who have sought medical help.

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A rape survivor wrings her hands as she relates how she was abused by soldiers at her home - AFP

A 33-year-old Zimbabwean unemployed mother of two tearfully narrates how four men in military uniform ordered her to open her door at midnight before two of them raped her.

On January 17, the men forced their way into her house in a poor township on the outskirts of Harare and searched the property to check she was alone.  

“One of them ordered me to lie on the bed, then he raped me. A second one raped me. The other two, holding firearms, just stood there,” the woman told AFP.

“After these people finished, I just sat on my bed and cried. Then around 4:00 am, I went to wake up my landlord’s daughter and told her what had happened. I stayed in her room until sunrise.”

Several women have sought help in the Zimbabwean capital, saying they were raped by soldiers and police who have enforced a brutal crackdown to crush public unrest after violent nationwide protests on January 14 over fuel price rises.

Justice for Women’s Rights Zimbabwe, a local NGO, said it had nine confirmed cases of women from Harare’s townships who have sought medical help. All were too scared to go to the police.

“The women just do not trust the system,” said Karen Mukwazi, an activist with the NGO.

“One woman simply said after they (the assailants) left, she went to bath and waited for her husband. There are more women out there who just decided to take a bath and try to forget it (but) you cannot forget rape,” she said.

Another woman told the NGO that she had kept her assault a secret from her husband.

  • Where to go for help? –
    “We live in a society that blames the victim especially when it comes to the issue of sexual violence,” said Talent Jumo, director of Katswe-Sistahood, a Harare sexual rights clinic.

“In this case it’s even more complex because the alleged perpetrators belong to the same institutions where the victim are actually supposed to run to for refuge, for support.”

Zimbabwean authorities have promised that police will treat women with respect, saying each police station has a female-led unit to record allegations.

“All affected women will be treated with empathy,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said, adding that the government “won’t accept any criminal behaviour by any member of society particularly those in positions of trust.”

The army and police have denied any misconduct and said some criminal gangs may have stolen uniforms to commit abuses.

The rape allegations have heightened international anger over the security crackdown, which has damaged President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s claims to have opened a new chapter for Zimbabwe after the repression and state violence of his successor Robert Mugabe.

“Political and sexual violence is unjust,” the US embassy said in a statement. “We support rape survivors and urge authorities to investigate and hold the perpetrators accountable.”

On Wednesday, some women in Harare wore black as a public protest against rapes and called for the new independent system be set up to handle complaints.

Rita Nyamupinga, a veteran gender activist in Zimbabwe, bemoaned that soldiers and police had targeted their own citizens.

“These are people who are supposed to give protection to the citizens of their country – regardless of where they are coming from, politically, socially,” she said.

At least 12 people have been killed and hundreds injured, with 78 people sustaining gunshot wounds, in the crackdown.

Police have arrested more than 1,100 people, including opposition lawmakers, trade unionists and some children.

The rape victim who spoke to AFP said she was hoping to soon receive some medical care.

“It’s painful that these are the people who are supposed to protect us and they do such an act,” she said. “But there’s nothing we can do”.

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Collapsed wall kills street children in Uganda

Due to a heavy downpour part of the perimeter wall of the school gave way

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Six street children who were sleeping in a storm drain next to an elite school in the Ugandan capital have been killed after a wall fell on them, police said Monday.

“Due to a heavy downpour part of the perimeter wall of the school gave way, collapsed on the kids, killing six of them on the spot and two were injured,” Kampala’s deputy police spokesman Luke Owoyesigire said. 

“The police rescue team is on the scene to check if any person is buried under the debris.”

The spokesman said police were trying to establish the identities of the children and track down their families, adding that they had been sleeping in the storm drain for a while.

According to Owoyesigire, it was the second such incident recently, after five family members were killed last month as they slept in a mud and wattle house when a wall collapsed on them.

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Thousands rally in Bamako to demand end to massacres

Ethnic tensions in the centre of the country have surged since a jihadist group led by preacher Amadou Koufa emerged in 2015.

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Thousands of Malians demonstrated in Bamako Friday to demand an end to a series of massacres in the centre of the country.

Police said 3,000 attended the rally in the capital while organisers said 5,000 turned out to urge an end to a spike in violence which has led UN peacekeepers to declare a state of alert.

Ethnic tensions in the centre of the country have surged since a jihadist group led by preacher Amadou Koufa emerged in 2015. 

The group recruit mainly from among the Fulani – primarily cattle breeders and traders – and they have clashed with the Dogon and Bambara — traditionally sedentary farmers who have formed their own self-defence militias.

There has been a swathe of mass killings this year. New Year’s Day saw 39 Fulani butchered in Koulogon, a village in the central Mopti region while 160 more were slaughtered on March 23 in Ogossagou then 35 more on June 9 in Sobane Da.

Fresh ethnic violence erupted this week leading to 41 further deaths in the ethnic Dogo villages of Gangafani and Yoro — the latest in a cycle of tit-for-tat attacks between the warring communities despite the army sending in troops.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who rejects the idea of an “inter-ethnic conflict,” on Thursday named former interim president Dioncounda Traore as high representative for the region to report back to him.

‘Too much blood’

The Red Cross, meanwhile, said Friday that some 2,800 people fleeing the violence had taken refuge in the town of Bandiagara in the east of Mopti region where aid including utensils and bedding had been distributed.

At Ouenkoro market on the border with Burkina Faso, local politician Moussa Dembele was abducted by armed men, said mayor Harouna Sankare.

He said five men blindfolded Dembele and took him across the border.

Friday’s demonstration was organised by a youth association demanding that militia be disarmed and for people to “say no to hate” whatever their ethnicity.

“Too much blood has been spilled. It has to stop or there will be no life left in the centre of Mali,” said one demonstrator, Habitatou Diallo.

UN peacekeeping chief in Mali Jean-Pierre Lacroix, visiting Mali on Friday, said in a statement “the situation has reached what one could call an alert level with the dreadful massacres of the past few weeks and days.

“We are ready to increase our efforts to support Malian efforts” to stem the unrest, he added, while stressing that “there has to be a Malian solution.”

The UN Security Council is due to examine next Thursday whether to extend the UN mission (MINUSMA) in Mali.

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Over 500 vultures die in Botswana after eating elephant carcasses

Most of the birds, 468 of them, were white-backed vultures, which are classified as critically endangered species.

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More than 500 endangered vultures died of poisoning after eating the carcasses of three elephants killed by poachers in Botswana, the government said in a statement.

A total of 537 vultures, along with two tawny eagles, were found dead at the site in the north of the African country.

The Botswanan wildlife and national parks department did not say when the dead vultures had been found or why the three elephants were laced with poison after being killed.

But poachers are known to poison carcasses to target vultures as the birds circle in the sky and help rangers to track poaching activity.

Most of the birds, 468 of them, were white-backed vultures, which are classified as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list of threatened species.

Also among the dead were 17 white-headed vultures and 28 hooded vultures — also critically endangered.

“The poisoning was believed to have been caused by lacing of three poached elephant carcasses with a poisonous chemical,” the wildlife department said.

Teams decontaminated the area and samples were taken for laboratory analysis.

Conservationists last week warned of surging elephant poaching in parts of Botswana and estimated nearly 400 were killed for their ivory tusks in 2017 and 2018.

The country recently sparked controversy by lifting its ban on hunting, saying it would help control a booming elephant population that was damaging farmers’ livelihoods.

In 2016, two lions and over 100 vultures in South Africa’s Kruger National Park died after eating a poisoned elephant carcass.

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