The men who pulled up in three white pickup trucks were looking for Patson Chipiro, head of the Zimbabwean opposition party in Mhondoro district. His wife, Dadirai, told them he was in Harare but would be back later in the day, and the men left.
An hour later they were back. They grabbed her and chopped off one of her hands and both her feet. Then they threw her into her hut, locked the door and threw a gas bomb through the window.
The killing last Friday — one of the most grotesque atrocities committed by Robert Mugabe’s regime since independence in 1980 — was carried out on a wave of worsening brutality before the run-off presidential elections in two weeks. It echoed the activities of Foday Sankoh, the rebel leader in the Sierra Leone civil war that ended in 2002, whose trademark was to chop off hands and feet.
Dadirai Chipiro, 45, a former pre-school teacher, was the second wife of a junior official of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) burnt alive last Friday by Zanu (PF) militiamen. Pamela Pasvani, the 21-year-old pregnant wife of a local councillor in Harare, did not suffer mutilation but died later of her burns; her six-year-old son perished in the flames.
About 70 local MDC supporters gathered in Patson Chipiro’s small yard in Mhondoro on Wednesday, 90 miles south of Harare, to protect him. Inside the hut where his wife of 29 years died, women sang softly to a subdued drum beat next to the cheap wooden coffin. The thatched roof had been destroyed in the fire so they sat under the open sky. The lid of the coffin could not be closed because Dadirai Chipiro’s outstretched arm had been burnt rigid. Her charred hand was found as women swept the hut.
Patson Chipiro, 51, a small, determined man, arrived from Harare on Friday afternoon to find his three brick huts ablaze. “I was trying to put the fire out,” he said. “I thought my wife was hiding in the bushes.”
His four-year-old nephew, Admire, heard him calling her. “He ran to me. He said, ‘Auntie has been beaten and they threw her in the fire.’”