BULAWAYO – One of the vehicles used by state security agents in the abduction of Tawanda Muchehiwa, the nephew of ZimLive editor Mduduzi Mathuthu, was hired from a Harare car rental company, ZimLive can reveal.
The white Ford Ranger was returned to Impala Car Rental in Harare on August 6 with a damaged suspension and tyres, the vehicle’s owner confirmed.
Private vehicle owners supply Impala for onward leasing.
Muchehiwa, 22, was grabbed from a parked vehicle outside a hardware shop in Bulawayo on July 30 and driven to an unknown destination where he was tortured over three days, suffering life-threatening damage to his kidneys and bodily injuries.
Muchehiwa confirmed the vehicle was driven off road into the bush where he was brutalised, which would explain the damage to the tyres and suspension. He was dumped just before midnight on August 1 after a judge gave police 72 hours to produce him.
His captors accused Muchehiwa – a second year journalism student at the Midlands State University – of involvement in the planning of anti-government protests that were planned for July 31.
State agents also launched a raid on the home of Mathuthu, but found him not there. A search and seizure warrant said they were looking for “subversive materials”. It allowed them to search the journalist’s home and workplace and seize laptops and other electronic gadgets.
ZimLive this week obtained CCTV footage of the abduction, which showed Muchehiwa being abducted by armed men who forced him into an Isuzu. The vehicle drove a few hundred meters and then he was transferred to the Ranger, which had the rear number plate removed.
During the same incident, two other nephews of Mathuthu were taken by men driving an Altezza sedan and taken to Bulawayo Central Police Station – confirming that the abductors were working with the police.
The Ranger’s front number plate – AES 2433 – is visible from the CCTV. It led us to the vehicle’s owner in Ruwa, just outside Harare.
“The vehicle is on hire through Impala and I was not driving it (during the abduction),” the man, whose identity we are withholding, said on Friday.
“I understand it was returned to Impala on August 6 with badly damaged tyres and needing attention on the suspension. It went for repairs and I only got it back on August 25. I have again sent it back to Impala this morning for a new contract.”
He said he was “disturbed” to learn that his vehicle had been used in an abduction, and prayed for Muchehiwa’s speedy recovery.
Impala owner Thompson Dodo confirmed they hired out the vehicle in late July for six days.
“Unfortunately, your enquiry involves personal information. What I can tell you is that the vehicle was hired out to a regular client. We would be much more comfortable sharing that information with the police,” Dodo said.
Both Dodo and the vehicle’s registered owner confirmed that police were yet to contact them – two days after we released the video of the abduction clearly showing the vehicle’s number plate.
National police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said: “We haven’t dealt with that case at national level and I’m unable to give any update.”
Nyathi referred questions to Inspector Abednico Ncube, the spokesman for Bulawayo police saying he “should be well versed with the case.”
“Unfortunately I can’t comment,” Ncube said. “I can’t give details because I’m not in the office until Monday.”
Human rights lawyer and MDC Alliance politician David Coltart said the video released by ZimLive showed “graphic evidence of the complicity of alleged state agents in the brutal torture of Tawanda Muchehiwa.”
“We often read about abductions but the gravity and horror of the offence is difficult to capture. The video shows the intricate planning involved in this abduction . It also shows how brazen the state agents have been doing this at midday in the full glare of the public,” Coltart said.
“There have now been some 70 abductions in Zimbabwe in the last year – most have been done at night. Teachers, a doctor, activists and opposition politicians have all been subjected to the same brutality, and also subject to the same intricate planning.”
Coltart said police were “clearly implicated in the video”, adding: “But of course nothing will happen because the perpetrators of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe have never been held to account. But the world needs to take note and act against those leaders responsible for ordering these crimes against humanity.”
Security forces increased patrols across the country on July 31 to stop anti-government protests called by activists over corruption and economic hardship.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is under pressure to revive a stricken economy, said the protests constituted an “insurrection” by the opposition.
Dozens of opposition activists, journalists and trade union leaders were arrested accused of organising or participating in small protests on the day. Scores of other government critics were forced to go into hiding.
The Heads of Missions of Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States on Friday said Zimbabwe’s government “has a responsibility to investigate and prosecute those responsible for violating human rights.”
“Covid-19 must not be used as an excuse to restrict citizens’ fundamental freedoms. Freedom of the press, of opinion, of expression and of assembly are all universally recognised human rights and are guaranteed by the Zimbabwe constitution,” the diplomats said.