History Monday: Gukurahundi – Forms of Organized Violence Part 2

Hi, this is from a 1997 CCJP report and a continuation from last History Monday


All methods of physical torture have the common element of causing extreme pain in a position of complete helplessness. This can be illustrated by a simple example in the difference between being hit by fists and boots in a fight as compared with being hit by fists and boots whilst being tied up.

Although it is generally futile to attempt any classification of types of physical torture, since man’s creativity in this area seems to know no limits, the range of types may be illustrated by reference to the findings from an international study on torture victims (Rasmussen.1990).


TYPES OF PHYSICAL TORTURE (from Rasmussen. 1990)

Beating 99%

Severe beating 97%

Severe beating (head) 73%

Electrical torture 54%

Physical exhaustion 34%

Climatic stress 33%

Asphyxiation 29%

Falanga 29%

Severe beating (genitals) 20%

Submarine (“wet”) 19%

Standing 17%

Suspension by arms or legs 6%

Banging head 15%

Abnormal body position 13%

Torture by heat 13%

Suspension on bar 10%

Sexual torture 10%

Telephone 9%

Submarine (“dry”) 6%

Sexual torture (rape) 3%

Nail torture 2%

Pushed down stairs, out of window 1%

In the 1980s disturbances: relating this to statements made to compilers of this report, all of the above types of physical torture, with the exception of the last two, occurred in the 1980s disturbances. The prevalence of various types of physical torture in different parts of the country varied, but research has not been analyzed comprehensively enough at this stage to result in tables offering precise ratios for all these categories, although general trends can be commented upon.

Certainly, it is quite obvious that beating, severe beating, and beating on the head were the most common forms of torture in the 1980s, in all regions for which records now exist. For named victims across all categories of physical torture, over 80% reported beatings. This number increases to more than 90% if unnamed victims involved in mass beatings are considered.

In addition, the Matobo pilot study suggested that there were greater refinements in physical torture in 1984, and in particular that sexual torture was more common at this time. Further study will be needed to establish the precise ratios of these various types of abuse in the 1980s.

One form of physical torture which was reported from all districts on file as having occurred in the 1980s, was the use of burning plastic: burning plastic bags would be dripped on to restrained victims. There are photographs on file of people scarred as a result of this form of torture.

It is common for different kinds of physical torture to be given at the same time: people can be beaten while being suspended or tied up in unusual positions: furthermore, physical torture can be accompanied by other kinds of torture. Almost every interview on record relating to the 1980s, reports the use of verbal abuse – psychological torture – in conjunction with one or more kinds of physical violence, either observed or personally experienced.

A considerable research effort has gone into identifying methods of physical torture, and new variations are found all the time. It is also apparent that methods seem to spread across the planet, and there is no form of physical torture that seems specific to any one culture. Not only the current study, but also the recent study of Zimbabwean war veterans in Mount Darwin endorses this, giving evidence of most of the forms of torture mentioned by Rassmussen.

In most torture studies, beatings of one kind or another are by far the most common methods of abuse. The beatings can be generally all over the body, but some countries show a preference for a particular kind of beating. Falanga, or beating the soles of the feet, has been frequently reported in Middle Eastern countries, but there are reports of its use in African countries too. Electrical torture is popular because of the extreme pain that it causes, as well as the few scars that it leaves.

The point to grasp here is that any physical harm caused deliberately is torture, and thus any procedure or object can become torture or be used in torture.


As can be seen from the summary of the reports, many persons (65%) experienced some form of physical torture.

Beatings constitute about 80% of the physical torture reported, with electrical shock, submarino, suspension, abnormal postures and rape all reported. The picture is actually little different to the kinds of abuse reported in other Zimbabwean studies. The following case, Interview Case Number 1679 TD illustrates a not-uncommon story.

On the 10th June 1983 at 4 pm I was taken from my workplace in a Puma vehicle, along with 2 others who worked for another store in Tsholotsho. We were taken to Mbamba Police Camp, about 40-50 km away. When we got there we were separated. My friend and I were accused of telephoning Bulawayo to warn our masters to stay away, because the killers (the 5 Brigade) were still there.

The 5 Brigade had made it known that they wanted to kill my master, Y, and my friend’s master, K. They had gone to hide in Bulawayo. I was beaten and lost 4 teeth on the spot, and 12 others after this. My friend was tied with his hands and feet together. They would hang him head down and feet up until he was paralyzed in both hands and feet. He died from this in 1993. From 1983 he was on and off in hospital.

This individual received blows to the face, which were severe enough to cause the loss of teeth, and may well have resulted in further injuries. There would be queries about possible hearing loss, as well as possible minor brain injury.

His friend experienced a severe form of suspension, which would have resulted in joint injuries, especially if he had experienced beatings at the same time as the suspension. The paralysis reported is unclear, but severe nerve damage is also a consequence of suspension. This case also illustrates the difficulty in separating out the different types of torture that these two men experienced. At the least we would have to consider physical torture, psychological torture, deprivation, and witnessing as possible experiences.

In addition to beating, some brief mention must be made of the other forms reported. Some survivors have reported the use of electrical shock, and this is a very severe form of abuse, which may result in physical damage in the form of lesions, and very frequently leads to long standing psychological disorder. Here it is enough to point out the effects of what is termed “aversive conditioning”.

Averse stimulation, which is most frequently some form of electrical shock has been shown to have long-standing effects: one animal study of the effects of electrical shock showed complete suppression of all behavior, including eating, in a squirrel monkey given very mild shock, and averse conditioning has been used for the suppression of anti-social or disabling behavior in the field of psychiatry. Under psychological torture following, there is mention of a persistent sexual disorder reported by one man in Mashonaland who had been sexually tortured through the use of electrical shock, and there are likely to be similar cases in Matabeleland, as the following case from the CCJP Confidential Report on Torture in Zimbabwe illustrates.

They then blindfolded and handcuffed me with my hands at the back and leg ironed me. Then they started beating me with a pick handle or some such stick. They beat me under the feet and on the back. I was lying face downwards as they were beating me. The pain was too severe for any description, I fainted in the process. When I gained consciousness,…., who was senior to the man beating me came and gave orders that they use electric shock on me. They used the field electric telephone. The instrument works on battery power. Wires were tied to my genitals, then they would wind the machine. On winding the shock runs through the body and I was screaming. The shock threw me down but I could not remove the wires because I was handcuffed. While I was screaming, they would dip a large family size towel in water and then tie it around my face covering the nose, so that I was breathing in water through my nose and mouth. This treatment caused me to faint. They poured water on me until I gained consciousness. Afterwards, that same day (at night) I was taken to Kadoma at Eiffel Flats. In the morning my feet were swollen so much and I could not pass urine, for my genitals were swollen and painful.

This case illustrates how many forms of torture are used simultaneously. This man suffered falanga, or beating of the feet, together with more general beating, sexual torture through use of electric shocks, and asphyxiation. Tying up, suspensions, being placed in abnormal positions are all reported by the 1980s survivors, and the likely result is that many of them will have persistent joint injuries, which cause pain and suffering, affecting both their capacity to work and indulge in social activities. Certainly, survivors claim such injuries in their interviews, and many claim current medical records in support of ongoing health problems.

Here it is worth commenting that the data from studies of survivors from the Liberation War indicate that many persons are still suffering persistent pain more than 2 decades after the original abuse, so we cannot be complacent about the effects of human rights violations in the 1980s.

The Matabeleland reports show some differences too with the Mashonaland reports and war veteran reports.

For example, as in the case above, there are on the 1980s records, more cases of falanga, and this form of abuse produces very severe and crippling long-term effects. Additionally, the medical records from Matabeleland show people with severe injuries due to beatings and other forms of physical abuse. It will be a matter of urgency to offer the proper physical rehabilitation for these survivors.


1. Nehanda Radio (2013) ‘Gukurahundi Massacres: Types of Physical Torture (Part 14)’

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