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3 Years Later, Some Zimbabweans Still Tormented by Rapes After Cyclone Idai

Women from Chimanimani discuss lessons provided by the international charity Voluntary Service Overseas about their legal rights under Zimbabwe's constitution, on March 18, 2022. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

Columbus Mavhunga

Three years after Cyclone Idai devastated parts of Zimbabwe, officials and aid groups are still counseling victims of gang rapes they say were committed by soldiers deployed to help trapped citizens.

In Chimanimani, about 400 kilometers from Harare, a group of women recently attended a meeting organized by the international charity Voluntary Service Overseas to learn about their legal rights under Zimbabwe's constitution.

A 17-year-old girl who attended told VOA she was gang raped by six soldiers and still feels the pain of the attack.

"The Cyclone destroyed our house," she said. "So we were moved to temporary shelters – tents. I was then raped by soldiers. After that they give me some food. I did not report [to police]. It was during the night and they were six. My mother had visited and that's the time they came."

Rudo Maputire, a worker from Zimbabwe’s ministry of health, said the government was told about many cases of women being raped after Cyclone Idai.

"After Cyclone Idai there were so many rape cases in the area, we helped those that came out to talk about it," Maputire said. "But others kept quiet and there was nothing we could do about it as village health workers. But we sent others to the hospital and asked them to report to the police. But our situation is very hard because the police camp is very far, the hospital is very far away, yet there is HIV and AIDS. We also had a case of a 14-year-old boy who was sodomized. He reported to us late after the person had left the area. It's difficult because we are very far from services."

No one has been prosecuted for the alleged rapes. When some victims said they had been raped by soldiers, a group of soldiers were lined up for identification. However, the victims could not identify the suspects.

Tugwell Chadyiwanembwa, a volunteer mentor with Voluntary Service Overseas, said many of the post-cyclone rape victims are still tormented by their experience.

"The effects of Cyclone Idai are still on going, especially the emotional bit," he said. "Women are still traumatized, women are still in a state of shock. We are continuously working with these women, to provide mental health services. During Cyclone Idai, young girls, particularly young women were vulnerable to sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, where they were involved in activities in selling sex."

Some of the women said they thought they had recovered from the trauma they went through after Cyclone Idai -- but say it comes back every time they see army trucks.

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