For many years I have been concerned about what is happening in my home country of Zimbabwe. Since the death of former President Robert Mugabe in September 2019, grave human rights violations have continued to occur, and are worse, under the leadership of current President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
I am speaking out to amplify the voices of victims of Zimbabwe’s corrupt government and ask for the intervention of the international community before more lives are lost.
This is very personal to me. I came to the United States as a young immigrant woman with so many hopes for a bright and peaceful future. I am like a lot of people living here who have roots elsewhere. No matter where my roots are watered, Minnesota is my home, but Zimbabwe’s situation is a daily anguish for me and many others.
My brother, Apostle Talent F Chiwenga, was the victim of two suspicious car accidents in the last year alone. After being followed on deserted country roads, my sister-in-law, Rejoice, was killed in one of these accidents, and Rosemary Vhurumuku, another pastor, was stabbed at the scene of one of the accidents.
Talent is currently suffering serious health impacts from being injured, targeted and followed. I am so worried about him, and I am grieving the loss of one of the most important women in my life.
I am not the only one in, and outside of, Zimbabwe dealing with this kind of devastation.
Most people in Zimbabwe who speak out end up harassed, imprisoned or disappear completely. At a peaceful demonstration last month, three women were abducted, tortured and their bodies dumped. Soldiers use rape as a weapon every day. Disappearance and torture have become commonplace.
COVID-19 has exacerbated both domestic and state violence in my home country as access to any kind of help or justice is nearly impossible.
Every day my inbox is filled with stories about persecutions and detentions of people speaking out in Zimbabwe. Every day I am heartsick from this news. The filmmaker and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono has been held in chains, eating only biscuits and water to stay alive because poisoning the food of prisoners is a common tactic used to enforce silence.
The writer Tsitsi Dangarembga, a recent Booker Prize nominee, was also arrested recently. She was discharged after a week because Graywolf Press, her Minnesota publisher, and her U.K. publisher, applied international pressure that led to her release.
Journalist Jestina Mukoko was also released because of international voices.
Being an African immigrant, I understand firsthand the power Americans have when they join in solidarity with people from abroad. Like the Black Lives Matter movement, #ZimbabweanLivesMatter is now trending. Recently, hundreds of people have begun using social media every day to break the silence about the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Zimbabwe. Graywolf Press’s posts on #ZimbabweanLivesMatter played a part in helping free author Tsitsi Dangarembga.
The global response to George Floyd’s death is a reminder of how connected we all are in our anguish over injustice. Minnesota-based organizations Casa de la Esperanza, Global Rights for Women, Violence Free Minnesota, and the senatorial offices of Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar are supporting my petition to bring greater awareness about Zimbabwe’s situation to the world.
I am asking you to contact your senator on behalf of many people impacted by this violence. When we advocate with our immigrant neighbors to support human rights beyond our immediate borders, we also amplify justice in our beloved local communities.
Comfort Dondo, of Minneapolis, is executive director of Phumulani, an immigrant women’s shelter.