JOHANNESBURG, Sept. 5 — A top Zimbabwean bishop accused African leaders on Friday of ignoring state-backed violence in his country, saying young people were being turned into violent instruments of President Robert Mugabe’s rule.
Last month African leaders backed Mugabe at a meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), asking the West to lift sanctions against the economically crippled country.
Pius Ncube, the Catholic archbishop of Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo, said Mugabe’s government had brainwashed young Zimbabweans in training camps run by his ruling ZANU-PF party, teaching as many as 50,000 youths to practise violence.
Ncube, long an outspoken critic of Mugabe’s government, said African leaders had refused to speak out in the misguided belief they must unite against ‘neo-colonial’ pressure from former ruler Britain and other Western nations.
”It is mob psychology by African leaders. They have become totally blinded to the abuse of human rights,” Ncube told a Johannesburg news conference.
”Pressure should be brought upon Mugabe to stop this abuse…which is killing off the souls of young people.”
Reports of increasing violence by youth militias come as Zimbabwe sinks deeper into its worst political and economic crisis since independence in 1980.
With inflation riding at close to 400 percent and critical shortages of food and fuel, Zimbabwe’s downward spiral has been exacerbated by political tensions which critics attribute to Mugabe’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
RAPED AND TORTURED
Ncube was flanked by ex-militia members who told how they raped, tortured and even murdered alleged ZANU-PF opponents.
Government critics including the opposition Movement for Democratic Change say Mugabe’s government has used graduates of its national youth service programme in violent campaigns against opposition supporters, especially ahead of elections.
The government denies the allegations and says the programme is about patriotic education.
One former militiaman, 19-year-old Wesley, told how he and 100 others, high on marijuana and beer, attacked a white-owned farm near Beitbridge on the South African border in April 2001.
”We surrounded the farm and after entering the house we tortured him (the farmer). After that his wife was raped and we raped his daughters. They were seven and 12 and the small one was around four years old,” Wesley said.
The youths, some armed with AK-47s, then locked the family inside the house and lobbed petrol bombs through windows.
”The family didn’t survive, we burned them all. I feel terrible for the things I have done,” Wesley said.
South African Catholic Bishop Kevin Dowling said Africa’s response to Zimbabwe would test its commitment to human rights, adding: ”Fundamentally, it is in the hands of (South African President) Thabo Mbeki and SADC not to pussy-foot around but go to Robert Mugabe and tell him ‘The game is up. Get out’.”