Article in the Zimbabwe Independent,
Friday 9th November 2001

Under cover of darkness.

By cathy buckle.

I was filled with an eerie sense of deja vu this week as I listened to a Marondera farmer telling me what had happened on his property recently while he was on leave. In a few days a peaceful, productive and fully operational farm was transformed into a re-education camp. In the months preceeding the 2000 Parliamentary elections there were a large number of these centres set up on farms throughout the country. They are back now as another election looms and the tactics being used are more frightening than before.
Moments after a farm is vacated, either voluntarily or through coersion, shaven headed men move in and terrorize the neighbourhood. Using whatever threats they deem suitable these men demand, borrow using force or simply steal tractors and trailers from nearby farms. As dusk falls the vehicles set out in all directions to round up every man, woman and child they can find. People are ordered onto the trailers and then taken to the vacated farms to be re-educated. There is no food or water, no one is allowed to rest or leave and groups of people numbering upwards of 400 are re-educated for periods of 10 hours or more at a time. They are lectured to about politics, forced to chant slogans praising the government and condemning the opposition. They are made to raise their arms, with clenched fists, again and again and proclaim undying allegeiance to the government. They are forced to line up and run and chant slogans and when they can run no more, the people are forced to do press ups and star jumps. They are made to sing songs popularised during the war for Independence and taught new ones which denounce whites, Britain, America, farmers, the MDC and anyone else who is not wholly supportive of the government.
Singing, marching, chanting and running are not enough any more. Physically exhausted, dirty and hungry, the people are then made to sit in a circle around their teachers. "Who is the foreman of Farm X?" they are asked. The foreman of the named farm must stand up and come forward, if he doesn't people are beaten at random. The foreman stands in front of the teachers. His children are called out of the crowd. "Beat him," they demand. "Hit your father," they order. "Hit him harder" they scream. Children are forced to kick, beat and whip their own parents. All cultural respects are gone, the father is humiliated, beaten and berated by his own children. Junior workers from Farm X are called forward. They too are forced to beat the man who is their superior, the man who gives them orders during daylight hours. All job related respect is gone, workers are forced to beat and humiliate their seniors. When the foreman is broken, physically and mentally, he may crawl back into the crowd. "Who is the foreman of Farm Y?" the teachers demand. And it starts again.
This goes on for most of the night and just before dawn the people are pushed and shoved back onto trailers and taken home. They have been re-educated. They have been humiliated, dignity and self respect is gone, they have witnessed at first hand the dangers of free thought and free speech. There are dozens of empty farms in Mashonaland East. The farm owners have been forced off their land and out of their homes. There are dozens of venues where re-education camps are operating right now as you sit and read this. On lands where maize seeds should be swelling and germinating, tobacco plants getting taller and paprika bushes flowering, there is dust. Only dust and marks on the ground from the night before where people were being re-educated. It is happening right now to men and women just like you. This is freedom. This is democracy.
cathy buckle
4 November 2001


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