These confessions, coming from three female rape victims, shocked more than 50 women bosses from virtually all NGOs dealing with Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Zimbabwe.
“I almost lost hope but I am glad that The Musasa Project has taken me in, given me food and shelter, and is counselling me,” one of the victims continues.
The three women from Harare claimed they were raped by their former husbands.
They all then tried to get help from the Courts but to no avail. To-date their former husbands are out of custody, making a mockery of the country’s judicial system.
The victims told more than 50 women gathered for a one-day workshop how they felt about the whole judiciary system and how NGOs treat them at a time when they need the most help.
“My husband was a soldier,” said Agnes, almost in tears at the workshop. He went away for about three months and then took leave and came back to haunt me. He beat me up regularly and he raped me. I was terrified.”
She said she was beaten up regularly and when she went to the Police, she was told she had no case and that the affair was between her and her husband and, therefore, it was civil matter.
“I have stitches on my nose,” Agnes said. She also showed participants her blue-black stomach.”
“I was asked to withdraw my case when I went to report it to the police. His relatives then asked me to withdraw the case since it could tarnish their name and our image in the community.”
She said she had been happily married between 1989 and 2004 but after that her life was a “horror story too ghastly to contemplate”.
Another victim, Esther, told the workshop that she had many stitches on her stomach which were done after she had a major operation.
“I was kicked, beaten up and told to leave my house by my husband,” she said.
“He told me that if I reported the case he would kill me. He then haunted me always until I ran away and sought shelter at The Musasa Project.
“They have helped me every day and I thank them for everything that they have done for me.”
The Musasa Project, based in Harare, provides shelter for women who have been abused by their spouses.
But the shelter is “temporary”.
“We do not have funds to give to our clients,” Executive Director of Musasa project, Netty Musanhu said.
“We desperately need money to help protect our women who are raped and tormented everyday of their lives by their so-called husbands or loved ones. The Ministry of Women Affairs and Gender has no money either to help the women.
“We are also struggling but we cannot just leave these women to suffer or even die.”
From January until March, this year, five women have already died from Gender Based Violence (GBV), according to ZRP boss, Inspector Barbara Ngwenya.
“We need to act when it comes to domestic violence and not just talk about it in five star hotels wearing high-heeled stiletto shoes and drinking coffee in our offices,” Musanhu went on. “We must take the Domestic Violence Act seriously.”
The Domestic Violence Act was passed by Parliament 2007 amid much pomp and fanfare from women parliamentarians.
Workshop participants, however, pointed out that it was not being taken seriously even by government officials or the ZRP.
“I was shocked that when we went to Gweru only six Police officers said they knew about the Domestic Violence Act,” a visibly shocked said Musanhu. “And this was out of a total of 30 Police officers. This is very worrying.”
However, Inspector Ngwenya, asked government to train the ZRP in Gender Based Violence (GBV) issues so that instead of simply arresting offenders they could also counsel them before sending them back into the community which traumatised them again.
“They are stressed, depressed and need all our support,” Ngwenya said. “However, as is usual government does not have funds right now but we must treat the cases seriously.”
Musanhu said maybe a “culture change” is needed in Zimbabwe because a “culture of violence has crept in. We must protect our rape victims,” she said. “If we do not then who will?”
Angnes told the workshop in her closing remarks: “We are traumatised by all of you. Please deal with our cases and do not send us from NGO to NGO and claim that you are helping us because you are not.”
The women then decided to meet once a month to try and pave the way forward and also to ensure that the Domestic Violence Act is “respected” by “everyone” including ZRP Commissioner, Augustine Chihuri’s, cash-strapped officers.