Zimbabwe: soldiers attack Catholic priest

SW Radio Africa reports today that a Catholic priest in Zimbabwe  has been badly beaten by soldiers.

Father Wolfgang Thamm SJ, who is in his late 60s,  was on a mercy mission to Darwendale on Sunday afternoon, with a hospital nursing sister, fetching an asthmatic boy from a clinic there to take him to Banket hospital. Darwendale is a village in the province of Mashonaland West, Zimbabwe, located about 62 km west of Harare.

From Trelawney he took the Maryland Road to Darwendale and about half way, passed farm buildings which have been commandeered by the army as a sort  of barracks, because it is close to their national armory in Darwendale.

He was flagged down by a soldier standing at the side of the road, but  didn't notice the man until the nursing sister pointed out the soldier waving. He reversed the vehicle back about 50 metres and  was met with abuse for his failure to instantly obey the signal.

The armed man ripped off his glasses and gave him a full punch to the right  eye (already damaged from a vicious beating he had in the 2002 elections).  He was then hauled out of the vehicle, punched again and shoved into a large  muddy puddle, where he was kicked in the stomach twice and beaten again.  They then used a container to pour muddy water over him from head to toe,  until even his shoes were full of mud. He was then told to get out of there.

Fr Thamm drove to the Darwendale clinic where they cleaned him up, gave him aspirin,  lent him a pair of old trousers and a blanket for his shoulders to replace the wet, muddy clothes and in driving rain he drove all the way back to
Banket hospital, in the dark.

His one eye is now completely red where the white should be and his cheeks puffy and bruised. His stomach is also still very sore.

Fr Thamm's staff and parishioners  say they are devastated by this attack on such a good man who is deeply respected by everyone who knows him. He has been a priest in Zimbabwe for most  of his life and for the past 12 years has been ministering in Banket.

Banket has had no power - and therefore no water -  for  the past seven days and Father Thamm has been running a generator a few hours a day to pump water free of charge, so that people in Kuwadzana  township can collect in their buckets.

Describing the attack as 'very desturbing', a spokesman for Radio Africa said: "This is yet another indication that the army is getting completely out of line. It is of great concern that the army feels so unaccountable and free to  abuse anyone they want to. It does not bode well for the future of Zimbabwe.

Fr Stephen Buckland SJ, Provincial, confirmed that Fr Wolfgang had been injured but was not seriously wounded.  "He was not detained and was able to continue his journey and is still at work in his parish in Banket... A report has been made to the police.  Wolfgang is in characteristically good spirits in spite of this ordeal.  Please keep him in your prayers." 

For more information see: www.swradioafrica.com/

Source: Radio Africa/Jesuits

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