A 23-year-old woman was abducted, sexually assaulted and badly beaten on Friday by men looking for her political activist uncle, her lawyer said.
The incident appeared to be an escalation of a wave of arrests and abductions of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s opponents and their families by state security agents.
Noxolo Maphosa was walking to a butchery near Pick n Pay (Hyper) in Bulawayo at about 10AM when she noticed four men walking behind her.
“I called my friend and told her there were men following me. Just as I ended the call, they grabbed me from behind and took my phone. They forced me into a white Izusu pick-up truck,” Maphosa said in a video statement.
She was blindfolded and driven to a house where she was interrogated about the whereabouts of Josphat ‘Mzaca’ Ngulube, her uncle who was jailed for seven years in 2019 accused of burning a Zanu PF vehicle during fuel price riots in January of that year. Ngulube is out on bail pending appeal against conviction and sentence.
Maphosa said she told her captors that she did not know her uncle’s whereabouts. The men also demanded that she produces a phone she uses for WhatsApp, but she does not have one.
“One of the men said I thought they were playing. He took out a knife and cut through my bra, leggings and panties,” Maphosa said.
Naked, Maphosa said the men took turns to beat her on her legs and thighs with logs. The men later insisted on driving her home to Cowdray Park suburb, they said so that they know where she lives.
Her lawyer Nqobani Sithole released pictures showing Maphosa with whip welts on her thighs and legs from the assault.
Sithole said the attack on Maphosa was an escalation of targeted political abductions by state security agents. The government denies the abductions, and accuses activists of faking the incidents.
The lawyer is also representing 22-year-old Tawanda Muchehiwa, a nephew of ZimLive editor Mduduzi Mathuthu who was abducted on July 30 by men also driving in a white Isuzu pick-up truck.
Muchehiwa, currently recovering at a private hospital after suffering damage to his kidneys, was tortured over three days during which he was made to drink his own urine. He was accused of involvement in the planning of anti-government protests on July 31, but which were crushed by the military and police who forced citizens to stay home.
He was dumped near his home after a judge gave police 72 hours to bring him to a court. Muchehiwa had suffered horrific wounds on his buttocks and back.
Police also raided Mathuthu’s home but found the journalist gone. They took his sister as bait, but she was later released
Hundreds have been arrested in recent months, including journalists, lawyers, opposition politicians, doctors and nurses, for protesting against the government or striking for better pay as tensions rise in Zimbabwe.
On Thursday, a government spokesman Nick Mangwana dismissed allegations of state-sponsored abductions and insisted that “there is no crisis or implosion” in Zimbabwe.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is following developments in Zimbabwe with “concern,” his office said.
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said he was sending two envoys to Zimbabwe “following recent reports of difficulties that Zimbabwe is experiencing.”
Ramaphosa, the current African Union chairman, acted following pressure from South African opposition parties and a global wave of social media protests under the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter.