Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Zimbabwean Youths Tell of Their Reign of Terror ; More Than a Year after Contested Elections, Many Finger Young 'Green Bombers' for a Campaign of Violence against Opposition Supporters

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Zimbabwean Youths Tell of Their Reign of Terror ; More Than a Year after Contested Elections, Many Finger Young 'Green Bombers' for a Campaign of Violence against Opposition Supporters

Article excerpt

They were given marijuana to dull their senses and alcohol to increase their rage. But after months of carrying out a campaign of terror against government-opposition supporters, even the haze of intoxication was not enough to hide the horror of their actions.

"First they gave us dagga [marijuana]. We smoked dagga and smoked dagga and then we got drunk. Then we burned the houses, took the cattle, and beat people," says Henry, a teenager and former member of Zimbabwe's feared National Youth Service. Henry fled to South Africa and is now living on the streets of a run-down Johannesburg neighborhood. Henry and others who spoke to the Monitor asked that their names not be used out of fear of retaliation against them or their families.

"The worst thing I did," he says, "was beat my own grandmother because she was opposing [President Robert Mugabe's party].... After that, I felt so bad that I ran away from Zimbabwe."

More than a year after Zimbabwe's contested presidential elections, which many observers say was stolen by Mr. Mugabe, violence against opposition supporters continues. In the aftermath of a two-day opposition-led strike in March, while the world's eyes were focused on Iraq, hundreds of Zimbabweans were beaten and hospitalized, arrested and tortured. Last week, a three-day strike led to the arrest of many opposition workers during raids on their offices.

In recent months, attacks have been reportedly committed by the police and military. But much of the violence is blamed on the National Youth Service, nicknamed the "green bombers" after their uniforms and the destruction they leave in their paths.

Human rights groups estimate there are 10,000 young men in the National Youth Service, in camps at schools and community centers around the country. The government established the service two years ago to teach skills and patriotism, and to get young people involved in community projects.

But many Zimbabweans say the young men have been trained by the military to terrorize opposition supporters and dissidents. The government denies this claim.

Until now, most of what was known about the bombers' darker side came from victims. But a few of these young men, like Henry, have fled Zimbabwe and are telling their stories.

Most are just teenagers and see themselves as victims of Zimbabwe's political turmoil, just like the people they beat and raped. On the run from their own government, harassed by South African police, and shunned by their own countrymen, they're asking for forgiveness and help. But few Zimbabweans are ready to so easily forgive.

"You're left now with a large number of people who have done things and need to be integrated back into the community - but they've done terrible things," says Tony Reeler, regional human rights defender for the Institute of Democracy in South Africa. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.