MUTARE, Zimbabwe—In recent months, several opposition political activists in Zimbabwe have been abducted by suspected state security agents; tortured and jabbed with an unknown substance.
Mysteriously, the injections appear to have no immediate impact on the victim and fears abound that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime is infecting people with some toxin which might be killing them slowly.
Opposition party, Citizens Coalition for Change, which is led by Nelson Chamisa, has gone public to accuse state security agents and the ruling party, Zanu PF, of carrying out the injections.
“We are not aware what the substance is but experts in one of the cases indicated that it could lead to a deadly cancer within five years if not drained out [of the body] in time,” Promise Mkwananzi of the Citizens Coalition for Change—often called the CCC—told The Daily Beast.
Though Mnangagwa came to power with promises of sweeping political, social and economic reforms, he is now seen as a worse leader than his predecessor, Robert Mugabe, a despot who was removed from power in a military coup in 2017. Many Zimbabweans who celebrated Mugabe’s ouster are now regretting supporting the military coup. And Chamisa has rejected the results of the Aug. 23 2023 general elections—which were controversially won by Mnangagwa— alleging massive rigging by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
One of the victims of this bizarre campaign of political terror was Harare city councilor and senior member of the CCC, Womberaiishe Nhende. He says he was bundled into a pickup truck and driven outside the city with his relative, Sanele Mkuhlani before being savagely beaten and injected with an unknown substance. Nhende told The Daily Beast that emotionally the experience was disturbing and physically he was still suffering from the pain. He said he was tortured for being the national youth organizer for the CCC and the government feared that he was mobilizing Zimbabweans to protest over the stolen August general elections.
“But l have never shifted on my resolve to fight for a better Zimbabwe for all, though disturbed by the methods of engagement being used by Zanu PF. I know for a fact it’s Zanu PF sponsored state agents, for they were blunt in their conduct,” he said.
Nhende said the doctors ran several tests and they suspect he was injected with harmful slow killing poison.
“The doctors have recommended further treatment outside Zimbabwe. Nothing conclusive has been reached hence the need to have further tests in highly specialized laboratories,“ he said.
Nhende is part of a growing pattern where political activists — mostly from the CCC—have been brutalized by Mnangagwa’s regime. By the end of September this year, more than 150 opposition party supporters, election agents and their families were in urgent need of safe housing or relocation due to a wave of post-election retributive violence, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
On Nov. 1 this year, CCC legislator, Takudzwa Ngadziore says he was abducted, tortured and injected with an unknown substance by suspected state security agents. He was beaten, stripped naked and dumped about 30 miles outside Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. On Nov. 11, CCC activist and pastor, Tapfumaneyi Masaya, was allegedly abducted by suspected state security agents and found dead two days later. And in October, James Chidakwa, a former opposition CCC lawmaker, says he was abducted by suspected state security agents, tortured and injected with an unknown substance. He was subsequently dumped in the middle of the night. In a statement following the abduction, the CCC said the regime in Zimbabwe continued to unleash violence and launch attacks against its members.
"This behavior must stop," the CCC said.
Tawanda Muchehiwa, a political and human rights activist who was abducted and tortured in 2020 by suspected state security agents recently posted on X that “one day, we must talk about the mysterious injection that the ferret [state security agents team] uses on political activists.”
Muchehiwa said during his abduction, he was injected with an unknown substance and many other activists have suffered similar fate.
"The latest victim, Cde Wombe [Womberaiishe Nhende], was also injected. What is it? Slow poison?” Muchehiwa asked.
Muchehiwa's post on X triggered a robust discussion on the issue with one activist saying, “I can testify as well of the injection and now fighting prostate cancer in my early 40s.“ And Patson Dzamara, a political activist who was abducted and injected a few years ago later died of colon cancer. It has not been established whether the cancer was linked to the unknown substance he was injected with.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights secretary general, Dr. Norman Matara, told The Daily Beast that they did not have any idea what the substance could be.
“Some victims were sent to South Africa to try and see what it could be. So far we have not yet received any results. Victims must go for toxicology screening tests so that we can see if there is anything which can be picked up and we know what we are dealing with,” Dr. Matara said.
Across Southern Africa, many organizations have raised alarm over the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe.
Khanyo Farisè, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Southern Africa, said Mnangagwa’s inauguration for his second term as president had been severely blighted by reports of attacks against opposition party activists and threats against those trying to organize peaceful protests amid a growing crackdown on human rights, especially the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
“[The authorities] must also conduct prompt, thorough, impartial, independent, effective and transparent investigations into pending cases of enforced disappearances, abductions, and torture. Those suspected of responsibility for these crimes must face justice in fair trials. Victims and their families must be provided with access to justice and effective remedies,” Farisè said.
The U.S. and European embassies in Zimbabwe have also condemned the abductions and assault of opposition political activists.
“The United States is deeply disturbed by continued reports of violence, assault and abductions of opposition members in Zimbabwe. We urge respect for constitutional rights and the fundamental freedoms that underpin them,” the U.S embassy said.
Efforts by The Daily Beast to get a comment from the Zimbabwean government and national police on the abductions and torture of opposition political activists were fruitless. The Zimbabwe Republic Police requested questions to be sent to their WhatsApp number but did not respond. At the same time, the country's Minister of Information, Jenfan Muswere, who speaks on behalf of the government did not answer repeated calls to his cell phone number.
Previously, the government has accused the political activists of faking the abductions and torture. In 2020, opposition lawmaker Joanah Mamombe and political activists, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, say they were abducted and tortured by suspected security agents but the police arrested the three for allegedly faking the abductions.
After photos and video of Ngadziore’s alleged abductors flooded social media, however, the authorities have not been able to sweep the latest kidnapping claims under the rug.
Ministry of Information permanent secretary, Nick Mangwana, said they had been keenly following the allegation of abduction and torture.
“We have also been handling a number of media inquiries on the same matter. We are liaising with the police who advise us that no such case has been reported to them so far. They also informed us that they are trying to make contact with the alleged victim so as to get more facts about this case, as currently they only have social media chatter to go by,” Mangwana said.
At the same time, the Zimbabwe Republic Police issued a short statement saying they have also “been keenly following an allegation of abduction and torture on social media.”
However, the police said no such case of abduction and torture had been reported.
“We are trying to make contact with the alleged victim so as to elicit the facts beyond what is on social media,” the police said.
If they really want to know what’s been happening all they need to do is listen to the cries for justice coming from the opposition.