Brave Zimbabweans speak out in London and Bulawayo

 Hundreds of Zimbabwean exiles and their friends gathered at St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, London, on Saturday, at a prayer service for torture victims in their country - while 2,000 attended a similar service in Bulawayo. Both congregations heard tales of brutality and enduring courage. Several of the speakers in London, including an opposition member of Parliament, a human rights lawyer and a former student leader, had come from Zimbabwe for the day to take part. MP Evelyn Masaiti said: "I am not afraid. I have experienced a lot. I am now prepared to die for the sake of the people of Zimbabwe." Mrs Masaiti, opposition legislator for Mutasa in Manicaland, arrived in London just hours before the service, after being detained, threatened and having her luggage searched by intelligence agents at Harare Airport. She said: "They tried to stop me going and they threatened to deal with me when I came back to Zimbabwe. I am prepared for any eventuality." Over the past few years, Mrs Masaiti, 39, has been jailed, beaten and threatened by police, soldiers, so-called war veterans and Mugabe's violent youth militia. Her husband died after being beaten up. Her five children seldom leave home for fear of being abducted. The service was organised by Amnesty International UK and other human rights organisations to show solidarity with Zimbabweans on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. A simultaneous service was held at St Mary's Cathedral in Bulawayo, led by Archbishop Pius Ncube. "We, who gather here freely, honour their courage and their witness," said the Rev Liz Griffiths said of those at the Bulawayo service. A choir of Zimbabwean exiles sang hymns in Shona, Ndebele and English, culminating with the anthem Nkosi sikilel' iAfrica. Afterwards, in a procession of several hundred, they walked to the nearby Zimbabwe Embassy, laid wreaths, and sang. In the foreground, Mugabe stared from a huge picture above the slogan "Wanted for the Murder of" - followed by long list of the names of victims. Both services focussed on the plight of youth and children living in a climate of hatred and fear, in a land wracked by HIV/AIDS. "We have created a generation of torturers who will be with us for many years to come," said human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, referring to the notorious youth camps set up by the regime. After the service, she joked as she prepared to head for Heathrow Airport to catch her flight to Harare: "I hope they are not too many people to meet me," she said. Tinashe Chimedza, general-secretary of the Zimbabwe National Students Union until 2002, who was expelled from the University of Zimbabwe for opposing the regime, was also returning home. He described being beaten semi-conscious in April by half a dozen policemen after they sealed off a hall where he had been invited to address a meeting on education. Outside, his lawyer was barred from entering. After the beating, he was taken to a police station and thrown on the floor, bleeding. He spent eight days in hospital. Because of his facial injuries, he has difficulty eating. "What about those people whose torture you have not heard?" said Chimedza. "There are many there whose stories are far more gruesome than mine." During the service, the voice of Archbishop Ncube, in a taped interview, echoed through St Martin-in-the-Fields. He spoke of the misery, the hunger, the starvation and widely discredited claims by Mugabe that the country needs no more international food aid. "Mugabe would not care if 500,000 Zimbabweans died of starvation,'' said the archbishop. He said the international community was keen to speak out against the abuses by the Mugabe regime. "The people who are at fault are the African leaders," he said. "The African leaders back Mugabe hook, line and sinker...Mbeki knows what is going on in Zimbabwe, but he doesn't face the truth about it." He added that, apart from the presidents of Botswana, Kenya and Zambia, the African leaders' stance is "since he is African let us support him, even though he is wrong." More than 2,000 people attended the service at St Mary's Cathedral in Bulawayo. Arhbishop Ncube told them: "We will have people perishing because of a government that tells lies. The people have no food. I have been to a couple of places this week. I have been to Lupane, Tsholotsho, Plumtree and Beitbridge (in southern Zimbabwe) and the people say that they will run out of food by the end of August." *On Friday, the Zimbabwean government repeated its earlier claims that it expected a bumper maize harvest of 2.4m tons, which it said was sufficient to meet local needs. It said it would not need food aid from donor nations, which last year fed some six million Zimbabweans, who are already grappling with sky-high inflation, a crippling unemployment rate and occasional fuel shortages. The government's optimistic food forecasts have been disputed by independent analysts and the opposition. During the two-hour long service, choirs sang hymns in Zimbabwe's different languages - Shona, Ndebele and English - while members of the congregation lit candles in memory of torture victims. "We have lots of people in this country who have been tortured and they have left everything to God," Archbishop Ncube said. "But as Christians we have to stand up to torture." Source: ZW News/DC

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