TSHOLOTSHO villagers have made sensational allegations of torture and beatings at the hands of rangers from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management (Zimparks) as authorities sought to extract information on the source of the deadly cyanide which is said to have left more than 300 elephants dead.
RICHARD MUPONDE /
The villagers are accused of poisoning the elephants in the Hwange National Park.
Zimparks rangers have been accused of using dehumanising tactics to extract evidence from villagers, some who are accused of hoarding stocks of cyanide used to kill the elephants.
But it is the revelations of the heavy-handedness of the parks’ rangers as narrated by villagers yesterday that have brought a new dimension to the scandal that has caught the eye of the international media.
A relative of Misheck Mafu (46) and Sipho Mafu (61), who are languishing at Khami Remand Prison awaiting trial, narrated how the brothers sustained serious injuries under interrogation by rangers.
The relative claimed the brothers were admitted at Tsholotsho Hospital after they were beaten while in remand prison.
“Misheck sustained head injuries as a result of being assaulted by rifle butts while Sipho was badly bruised all over the body,” said the relative who spoke strictly on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
The relative said the Mafu brothers spent two days at Tsholotsho Hospital. Before they were remanded at Khami Remand Prison.
They are expected to appear at the Hwange Magistrates’ Court on Friday.
The relative said villagers were now living in fear because of constant harassment by Zimparks rangers.
Another villager, a Phelandaba businessman identified as Lot Zondo, was also said to have been tortured by rangers and allegedly suffered a heat stroke as a result of being forced to sit in front of a brazier in the scorching summer heat.
A villager said Zondo was treated at Phumula Clinic about 100km from Tsholotsho centre.
But when a Southern Eye news crew visited Tsholotsho Hospital yesterday, speculation was rife that Zondo’s health was deteriorating and that he had been transferred to Bulawayo.
This could not be immediately verified, but it emerged during the visit that Zondo’s plight was well-known in Tsholotsho.
Another villager who is alleged to have been tortured is Richard Sibanda and 10 others who received treatment at Phumula Clinic.
Vumile Dube, the Campfire chairperson for Tsholotsho, told Southern Eye that Zondo was tortured by Hwange National Park rangers seeking to extract information on the poaching.
“I saw Zondo recently and he said rangers tortured him and he sustained injuries on his leg as they wanted to extract information about the cyanide killings and the source of cyanide,” Dube said.
“However, I don’t believe that the torturing was of no use because Zondo has a history of teaching villagers how to kill animals, including elephants.
“My position is that torturing Zondo may have been necessary in obtaining information, leading to the arrest of elephant killers since he taught people to kill animals at the park.”
The Southern Eye could not locate Zondo to hear his side of the story.
An official from the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association yesterday confirmed receiving reports of villagers being tortured as officials probed the killing of elephants.
The torture victims had been discharged from hospital, the official said.
Villagers also claimed that most youths in the Phelandaba area of Tsholotsho had skipped the country to South Africa and Botswana to escape the brutality of the marauding rangers.
But Matabeleland North police yesterday said they had not received any reported cases of torture.
“There is nothing of that sort reported at our Tsholotsho Police Station or the nearby Lupane Station,” police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Spiwe Makonese said.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Environment, Water and Climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere professed ignorance over the alleged brutality by Hwange National Park rangers.
“I am not aware of that torture,” he said.
Zimparks spokeswoman Caroline Washaya-Moyo did not respond to two e-mails sent to her by Southern Eye for a comment about the alleged torture.