Association of Concerned Africa Scholars Review (previously: Bulletin)
ACAS Bulletin 79: Special Issue on Zimbabwe Crisis

Zimbabwe: Ndira Body Found

June 2008

Tonderai Ndira’s body was identified in the mortuary at Harare’s Parirenyatwa Hospital by a bangle around what had been his wrist.

He had been dead a long time, or at least a week as it was on May 14, in the early hours of the morning that this extraordinary activist, probably the most persecuted political personality in Zimbabwe, was snatched from his working class home in Mabvuku township, eastern Harare.

They came at night, about 10 of them, and in front of his children, Raphael 9 and Linette 6, and his wife Plaxedes, beat him up and then dragged him screaming into a white double cab.

Tonderai Ndira, 33, was certainly Zimbabwe’s most renowned street activist who had been arrested and beaten up and hospitalised scores of times since he began campaigning for democracy in late 1999.

His decomposing, naked body was found in the bush near the old commercial farming district Goromonzi, about 40 km south east of Harare, close to the torture centre run by the security forces, usually the Zimbabwe National Army, where so many Zimbabweans have been worked over since independence.

Hours after his brothers identified the body – it was so decomposed and mutilated that his own father was not sure whether the long, slender remains on the slab was his oldest son – the police began harrassing the family saying they could not have the body for burial.

His brother Cosmos Ndira said yesterday: “He was in the mortuary where they keep the unknown people, the street kids. He was naked. The bangle was given to him by his wife.

“I think Tonde was arrested 35 times, but maybe more, we lost count. We were all so happy after the elections, thinking that the eight years was now over and we could begin new lives.

“We often talked about dying, and Tonde often used to tell us that he would be killed by Zanu PF because he was arrested and beaten up so often.”

Ndira was head of the Movement for Democratic Change’s provincial security department in Harare.

He was detained for five months last year in the pitiful prison cells, unfit for human occupation, and was suing home affairs minister Kembo Mohadi and police commissioner Augustine Chihuri for wrongful arrest.

Despite all the arrests since the MDC was launched Ndira was never brought to trial. All charges, including a two year period when he was remanded every two months, were dropped for lack of evidence.

The police have failed to convict a single MDC activist among the tens of thousands detained in the last eight years.

Ndira was one of the activists who was, occasionally openly critical of the MDC when he believed it had gone wrong.

He didn’t believe in “my party right or wrong” but was a founding member of the party and destined for high office one day although he always saw himself as a background activist.

“I do this for my children. I want them to have a better life than me,” he told journalists who asked him why he kept on going.

His death came on a day when two more MDC activists were buried at the Warren Park cemetery west of Harare. One of their friends was buried last Sunday.

Those three were beaten to death in a rural area about 65 km north east of Harare where most, but certainly not all of the violence has taken place since the March 29 elections.

No one is sure how many people have died since Zanu PF and President Robert Mugabe were defeated in parliamentary and presidential elections. So far 42 victims have been identified by relatives, but many people believe the real toll is much higher especially in remote parts of northern Zimbabwe. If there are any Zanu PF victims, police and the party have failed to provide details.

At least 600 terrified people including dozens of nursing mothers and babies are sheltering at the MDC’S Harare headquarters, Harvest House.

They have no blankets nor food, and the ablution facilities are blocked, and the conditions are inhuman as the building is an office block.

So far neither the International Committee of the Red Cross nor the United Nations has even been to inspect or assist the internally displaced, “It is an appalling crisis,” said MDC lawyer Alec Muchadahama yesterday.

“The people are supposed to go to a neutral area so they can get international assistance. Where is a neutral area? Where should they go?” he said.

“This is Zimbabwe’s darkest hour. Will anything or anyone rescue us? Can there be an end to this? We can’t keep up with it,” he said, and admitted he was exhausted.

Scores are in detention including two recently elected MDC MP’s, Iain Kay, Amos Chibaya and Dr Alois Mudzingwa, MDC executive member and close friend of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Kay was one of the first white farmers to be assaulted by Mugabe’s “war veterans” in 2000, and he was later forced off his farm. He won his seat on March 29 with support from people from his old farming area, around Marondera, 70 km south east of Harare.

He and Chibaya are being charged with incitement to public violence, according to Muchadahama and were due to appear in their local magistrate’s court yesterday.

No one has been arrested in connection with any of the MDC murders, nor in connection with tens of thousands who have been assaulted. No one has been arrested for arson of village after village in the last three weeks either.

“We can’t really keep up with all the deaths and arrests. I have to go and attend to someone else from the national executive who has been arrested.” Mchadahama said.

––Peta Thornycroft
Harare, May 22, 2008