JOHANNESBURG – While Zimbabweans and the rest of the world, have been seized with the latest shooting of protesters, who were demonstrating against an unexpected fuel price hike, reports are that dozens of other activists have silently gone missing since the November 2017 coup that ushered President Emmerson Mnangagwa into power.
This newspaper can exclusively reveal that in December 2018 alone, dozens of activists – including former members of the ruling party, disappeared and have not been seen, after they were targeted by either state security agents or members of the ruling party.
Among those still missing are former members of Zanu PF, Butholezwe Ngwenya (23), Ivan Ndlovu (35), Mollet Moyo (31), Edward Siwela (37) and Michael Ndlovu, whose age was not given. It remains unknown whether they were arrested, abducted, killed or in hiding, as details remained sketchy, but their relatives feared that they could have been abducted or killed under the radar. All six were accused of having parallel membership to a splinter Zanu PF group known as the G40 – which tried to block Mnangagwa’s rise and the Mthwakazi secessionist parties.
Although locations and circumstances were different, each of the activists apparently disappeared while either being pursued by state security agents or having received mysterious calls and visits from suspicious people, after they were branded “sellouts” by Zanu PF officials.
Michael Tshuma, a cousin to Ngwenya, said he had not been in touch with the latter since December, after he was deported for being an illegal immigrant. He however, neither reached home nor returned to Johannesburg since then and has not been in touch with any of his relatives. Deported Zimbabweans are usually dumped at a police station in the border town of Beitbridge and Tshuma feared his cousin could have been abducted there.
“What worries us most is that he did not reach home and has not returned to Johannesburg. The last time we heard from him, he called calling saying he was being deported,” said a worried Tshuma.
“The whole family is now fearing for the worst because when he came here, he was running away from state security forces at home on political issues.”
Before their disappearance, the activists were allegedly being followed by suspicious people. Their relatives have not rested since, while some have fled to neighbouring South Africa, telling this newspaper that people driving unmarked cars kept harassing them in their homes at night, threatening them with death if they “kept hiding the sellouts”.
Trouble for the activists is said to have begun in November 2018, after they were publicly manhandled and threatened with death during a Zanu PF meeting in Bulawayo, where they were accused of being spies who leaked information to “enemies of the struggle.”
They were accused of belonging to the G40 while others accused them of being members of secessionist groups agitating for the secession of Matabeleland to form a separate state of Mthwakazi.
“One day in November, we were in a party (Zanu PF) meeting in Magwegwe, where we were preparing for the party’s forthcoming conference in Esigodini the following month. In that meeting, our youth leaders called out our names and said they had evidence that we were spies planted in the party by the G40 and Mthwakazi groups. They said they knew that we were leaking party information to enemies of the struggle and manhandled us, threatening to kill us, but police and party elders intervened,” said Nkululeko Ndlovu, one of the activists in hiding in South Africa, adding that he did not feel safe in the neighbouring country, while his relative were still being threatened in Zimbabwe.
At least three other relatives of the missing activists said they themselves had to flee their homes in Bulawayo after people driving unmarked vehicles continued to harass them at night, threatening to kill them if they continued to “hide the sellouts”.
“What worries us most is that we have heard stories of many people – especially political political activists, disappearing here in South Africa, where there are many Zanu PF informers,” said a man who requested not to be named as he is also in hiding.
Many Zimbabwean activists who flee to the neighbouring country have been abducted in their safe houses and taken back to Zimbabwe, where they are detained, tortured and in the worst-case scenario, killed.
Gift Nhidza (now late) and Ishmael Kauzani are some of those who were abducted in South Africa in recent years. Others like Remember Moyo, Godfrey Phiri, Nkathazo Moyo and Rufaro Hove died mysteriously in South Africa, while Adrian Chirape disappeared without trace.
Dozens more activists have gone missing since government began its crackdown on opposition activists and civil society leaders following recent protests over a sharp rise in fuel prices. While some are in hiding, others are believed to have been abducted by state security agents. A number of others have been tortured and left for dead.