- Hilary Andersson, of the BBC's Panorama programme, reveals
how thousands of youths are being taught to rape, maim, torture and kill
in Zimbabwe's terror training camps - and now Robert Mugabe intends to
make the camps compulsory for all the country's young men and women.
- It should have been just another shopping trip for Debbie.
She needed a few vegetables, so headed off into one of Bulawayo's markets.
On that November morning back in 2001, she had no premonition that her
life was about to be wrecked.
- In the market was a large gang of Mugabe's youth militia
chanting Zanu-PF slogans. They quickly spotted the tall 20-year-old and
demanded that she come and join them. Debbie, terrified, turned and ran
for home, but the gang chased after her through the streets.
- She thought she had made it to safety, but she had been
seen entering her house. If she didn't come out, the gang members shouted,
they would burn it down. Debbie surrendered. She was allowed to take just
one possession with her: a blanket.
- Debbie was taken to one of the so-called training camps
for Robert Mugabe's Green Bombers youth brigades. That night the camp boys
came into her dormitory. They locked the doors, then took it in turns to
rape her. "The boys turned the lights off at 10 o'clock," she
said. "They told me: 'If you cry, if you make a noise, we'll beat
- The ordeal didn't finish there. She says she was raped
again - and again, every night for the next six months. Debbie shared her
blanket with an 11-year old girl called Sitembile. The little girl would
scream night after night as she was raped, too.
- The morning after being gang raped for the first time
Debbie asked the camp commander for medical help. He told her not to complain
and sent her on a 20-kilometre run. Like many of the youths she was often
deprived of food for days at a time, and frequently beaten.
- One day she was caught trying to escape, and was sadistically
punished. She was buried to her neck in the ground. When she was dug out
hours later she was made to roll in raw sewage. "The water, it was
dirty," she said, "my head was rolling inside."
- The commanders then forced Debbie to eat her meal with
the other inmates without being allowed to wash. "The commanders,
they laughed," she said.
- Debbie, now 22, is understandably a deeply traumatised
young woman. She fled to South Africa after speaking publicly about her
experiences in Zimbabwe. As a consequence, she now lives isolated and in
hiding, in fear of Mugabe's secret police. At least two Zimbabweans have
been tortured, one to death, for telling the truth about the camps.
- There are at least six large camps in Zimbabwe, trapping
thousands of children and youths inside. The youngest are aged just 11;
the oldest 30. Once inside, many of the recruits are put through a horrific
training programme which, over a period of three to six months, can turn
ordinary youngsters into thugs with a capacity for extreme violence.
- The people of Zimbabwe are told that the camps are job
training centres, where youths learn such skills as carpentry and sewing.
Many youngsters believe this propaganda and actually volunteer for the
- Panorama spent weeks with Debbie, slowly eliciting the
full horror of her ordeal. She was far from alone in her brutal treatment.
In interviews conducted by Panorama and human rights groups with almost
100 former camp youths, around 50 per cent of the girls said that they
were regularly raped in the camps.
- Rape on such a scale helps break down the youth in the
camps emotionally, which enables the camp commanders to gain physical and
psychological control of their young inmates. The boys in the camps are
often encouraged to rape by the commanders, who ply them with alcohol and
- "Daniel", who was in a camp about 100 miles
from Bulawayo and is also now in South Africa, sports a tight woollen hat,
and lounges on his chair when he speaks. He smiles when he talks about
raping. "I was enjoying it," he admits, "because I was only
choosing the nice girls."
- Daniel, who was a young leader in the camp, treated the
girls as his slaves, ordering them to wash his clothes, and bring him food
and drink as he pleased.
- A former official with the Ministry of Youth, Gender
and Employment Creation that oversees the camps, explained the government's
- "You are moulding somebody to listen to you, so
if it means rapes have to take place in order for that person to take instructions
from you, then it's OK," he said. He was so horrified that he left
his job with the ministry in disgust.
- Rape is just one of the ways camp commanders are able
to turn their charges into unquestioning automata. The training methods
vary from camp to camp, but the pattern is consistent.
- Every day the inmates are woken at 3 or 4am and forced
into a regime of tough exercise. Those who can't keep up are beaten with
- For two or three hours a day they are also taught the
history of Zimbabwe. One of the training manuals that is used in the classes
is a collection of Robert Mugabe's speeches. The children say that they
are afraid to question the teachings.
- "They have to take out the stuff which you have
in your mind and then put in new stuff," said one man who had been
through the camps. The youths are taught that opponents of Mugabe's Zanu-PF
party must be dealt with harshly.
- The brutality in the camps prepares the youths for the
more advanced lessons in how to torture and kill government opponents.
Most of the youths Panorama interviewed said that they were taught how
to kill. Debbie was given lessons in using shoe laces for strangling, and
stabbing people in the head with a knife.
- The "star pupils" are selected for training
in the techniques of torture. Youths testified to being taught how to torture
with electricity, or by hanging victims upside down and lowering their
heads into buckets of water below until they nearly drown.
- Even while they are still "in training" many
youths are sent out on missions to beat up opponents of Mugabe's government.
Some, Debbie was one, are also sent out to kidnap fresh recruits into the
- A few are forced to attack and maim members of their
own families if their relatives are suspected of being opposed to Mugabe.
One 24-year-old woman, "Promise", said that she was forced to
beat her own uncle. During the attack his back was broken and he is now
crippled. "Now sometime I have nightmares about it and I end up screaming,"
- The camps are situated in remote areas and there is little
chance for escape. Any disobedience or breaking of the rules means instant
punishment. The camp commanders themselves are former soldiers and war
veterans. It took months of discussions to persuade one of them to speak
to Panorama anonymously. He admitted that youths in his camp had been sent
to kill two opponents of the government two years ago.
- "My superiors instructed me that the people must
be eliminated," he said matter-of-factly.
- A youth ministry official who has now fled to South Africa
said that he attended meetings at the Ministry of Youth at which killings
and hit lists were openly discussed.
- "Somebody would just say: 'We went on Saturday to
this other area, and we beat up people. Ah, by the way, one of the guys
died," he said. "It was like describing the result of a match
between Manchester United and Arsenal."
- As a means of keeping Mugabe in power and of subduing
the opposition, the youth militias have been highly successful over the
past three years. They were used to beat and intimidate thousands of supporters
of the Movement for Democratic Change during the elections of 2002. Since
then, they have been used to "police" food queues, making sure
that government supporters get first access to the desperately needed maize.
- An estimated 50,000 youths have already passed through
the camps, but Mugabe wants more. His next goal is to win the parliamentary
elections in 2005, so is in the process of making it compulsory for every
Zimbabwean youth to undergo training.
- "These guys are going to be used by the ruling party,"
said the one camp commander who would speak to us. "Our main concern
is that we keep this opposition party out of power."
- If Mugabe has his way, an entire generation of young
people will be forcibly brutalised and corrupted.
- Most of those who have fled his camps are deeply traumatised
by their experiences. They feel tainted for having maimed, tortured and
killed. It is a burden they find almost impossible to shake off.
- Debbie is HIV positive as a result of her rape. She also
became pregnant and now has a one-year-old daughter, Nunus. She knows that
she is likely to die from Aids long before Nunus is fully grown - it is
a sadness that so overwhelms her that she has tried to kill herself.
- © Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004.