…denies complicit in human rights violations, extortion
By Beatific Gumbwanda
CHIREDZI – Chief Sengwe has dismissed accusations that he is working with soldiers and police officers to exploit vulnerable illegal immigrants, and has blamed government for failing to stop what he called were the excesses of border security enforcers.
The traditional leader, whose real name is Lisimati Makoti, blamed soldiers and police officers for terrorising people who illegally cross the border into South Africa and Mozambique.
Chief Sengwe’s area covers part of the vast border with South Africa and extends eastwards to the similarly porous boundary with Mozambique at Chikwalakwala.
Many people under Chief Sengwe and beyond cross illegally into the neighbouring countries to look for economic opportunities but are often taken advantage of by security forces that sometimes extort money from them, torture them or subject them to inhuman or degrading treatment.
Chief Sengwe recently came under fire from many people for allegedly working with abusive soldiers to extort money from desperate illegal immigrants.
A recent WhatsApp chat shows one villager bitterly complaining ostensibly to Chiredzi South Member of Parliament (MP) Callisto Gwanetsa that Chief Sengwe is helping security forces to commit abuses against defenseless ‘border jumpers’. The villager goes on to accuse Chief Sengwe of sharing the spoils of the extortion with the soldiers.
“We also require you [to] engage with Chief Sengwe on the issue of soldiers who are terrorising our relatives and friends at Limpopo River. Were (sic0 they demand a lot of money from poor citizens on their way to South Africa. It is said Chief Sengwe is involved in such a corrupt and evil act because they bribe him with a lot of money. And as concerned citizens of Chiredzi and as the Tsonga- Shangani we would want to say if this issue isnt (sic) solved quickly we are going to approach the DA and make it clear that we want Chief Sengwe to be demoted and become a Headman.
“In addition to the above, we want also to make it clear that if our concerns are not met. There will be chaos in the lands of Chiredzi of which we don’t (sic) want such chaotic activities in our land,” read part of the chat which ostensibly happened between Gwanetsa and a villager.
In the chat, Gwanetsa challenges villagers making the allegations to produce full-proof evidence against the chief and then report him to the police or the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zaac) and be prepared to stand in court to testify against him.
When TellZim News contacted him for comment, Gwanetsa said the issue had been addressed ‘by relevant’ authorities whom he did not identify when pressed for further clarification.
“Thank you for your inquiry. However, if it’s for people from Chiredzi South constituency, the issues have been addressed by relevant authorities and feedback through appropriate channels (sic),” responded Gwanetsa to questions sent to him on WhatsApp.
Gwanetsa, however, did not authenticate the ostensible WhatsApp chat between him and the aggrieved villager concerning the matter.
When called for comment, Zimbabwe National Army spokesperson, Col Overson Mugwisi said he had been off duty for some time and was not in the know about developments in Chiredzi South before referring questions to Lt Col Alphios Makotore who requested emailed questions but could not be reached on the email address he provided.
When later asked to provide an alternative email address, he promised to find out what was wrong with the one he had provided and come back, but had not done so by the time of going to print.
TellZim News reported last year that a Chiwara bus driver and conductor were assaulted in Malipati by drunken soldiers who went on to destroy windscreens of the bus after their attempts to abuse passengers were resisted.
In an interview, Chief Sengwe distanced himself from what he called ‘the mess’ and blamed government for failing to deal with corrupt and abusive soldiers.
“It is the government that controls the soldiers, not us. We don’t even fit in the equation. We have made several complains over this rowdy behavior by members of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) that they are terrorising border jumpers and demanding border tithe (chegumi) from them, of which failure to pay earns you sjamboks,” said Chief Sengwe.
The traditional leader also claimed that some undercover soldiers from the military intelligence were recently murdered by rogue soldiers in the same border area but the issue seemed to have been swept under the carpet.
“Some soldiers came disguised as border jumpers (illegal immigrants) to investigate the abuses but were shot dead when they tried to arrest the corrupt soldiers. However, nothing ever happened to deal with that. What else do you want me to do? The government should just intervene and deal with this mess,” said Chief Sengwe.
There are several reports of non-cordial relationship between uniformed forces and civilians in Sengwe communal lands, where extreme force is allegedly being used against suspected illegal immigrants, some of them said to be just but innocent villagers.