Joice Mujuru served as Robert Mugabe's Vice-President for a decade. Now she is running for president in Zimbabwe with her own party. But why should people vote for someone complicit in a regime that killed thousands?
Ever since the southern African country of Zimbabwe gained independence from Great Britain in 1980, Robert Mugabe and his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), have been governing the country as an authoritarian regime.
For the first seven years, Mugabe served as Prime Minister, since then he's been leading the country as President for the past 30 years. During his rule, Zimbabwe has made numerous headlines for human rights violations, corruption, murder, atrocities and torture.
From 2004 until 2014, Joice Mujuru served as Mugabe's Vice-President. Since then, she has founded her own party, the National People's Party (NPP), and is running for president next year.
But why should people vote for someone who was complicit in a regime guilty of such widespread human rights violations?
There have been numerous protests across the world - like here in London - against the violations of human rights occuring under Mugabe's leadership
Was Mujuru a cheerleader for Mugabe's harsh regime?
In an interview with DW's flagship political talk show Conflict Zone, Mujuru admitted that she was a willing senior member of a regime that perpetrated grave human rights abuses - and still does.
"It is a fact. It's known that there is a lot that's been happening and is happening in Zimbabwe," she told Conflict Zone host Tim Sebastian.
"Hence I'm here. To make people see that yes, I was there, but I was an individual and I have an individual mind."
Mujuru denied that she was a "cheerleader" for a regime in which people were tortured and killed in their thousands. The 61-year-old said she didn't have the power to stop the atrocities, as "there are executive orders that are carried out which nobody can stop."
She also said she didn't always have full knowledge of what was happening.
"You don't know everything in life," she said.
Did Mujuru know about the Gukurahundi massacres?
In 1983, more than 20,000 civilians were killed by what is wildly suspected to have been Mugabe's Fifth Brigade, attempting to eliminate opposition groups after Zimbabwe's independence. Commonly referred to as the Gukurahundi massacres, it was a campaign of terror waged against the Ndebele people in Matabeleland in western Zimbabwe. So far, no one has accepted the blame for the violence.
Asked how she could not have known anything about these human rights violations when the whole world knew what was going on, Mujuru said she even visited the Matabeleland region back then.
Tim Sebastian: "And you saw nothing and heard nothing?"
Joice Mujuru: "I didn't see. But hearing, yes I was hearing."
Tim Sebastian: "And you did nothing about it?"
Back then, Mujuru was serving as Minister of Women Affairs and Community Development. In the interview, she said she didn't have the power to do anything at the time, that she asked questions, but wasn't getting any answers.
Atrocities committed under Mujuru's vice-presidency
However, atrocities were still going on at the time Mujuru took over the vice-presidency.
During the election in 2008, militias under the instructions of 200 military officers battered Mugabe's and Mujuru's opposition, the MDC party, almost to the point of destruction. By election day, more than 80 opposition supporters were dead, hundreds were missing, thousands were injured, and hundreds of thousands were homeless.
Confronted with these figures, Mujuru said she personally questioned "why such things were taking place."
When Tim Sebastian suggested that she may have questioned why the atrocities were taking place, but did nothing to stop them, Mujuru said:
"But stopping is when you know exactly who is doing that. You have to ask, so that you understand."
In the same year, one of the worst atrocities took place in the farming village of Chaona, close to Mujuru's home in the capital Harare. According to the Washington Post, "women were stripped and beaten so viciously that whole sections of flesh fell away from their buttocks. Many of them had to lie face-down in hospital beds during weeks of recovery. Men's genitals became targets. The official post mortem report on Chaona opposition activist Aleck Chiriseri listed crushed genitals among the cause of death."
Confronted with the fact that this was the doing of Mujuru's then party, Zanu-PF, Mujuru said she regretted the incidents, but as vice-president she wasn't in charge and didn't have the power to stop the atrocities. All she could do, she claimed, was to ask why the atrocities were taking place.
"I think the world should have been able to understand that they were lone voices that were trying to ask why," she said.
Denial of atrocities as vice-president
Mujuru has denied time and again that these atrocities also took place during the time that she was serving as vice-president from 2004 until 2014.
In 2009, Amnesty International's president came to Zimbabwe to address the impunity enjoyed by human rights abusers there. According to documents published by Wikileaks, Mujuru rejected this, saying the people of Zimbabwe had gotten over their differences and had stopped fighting as they were "too busy rebuilding their country." Back then, Mujuru also said there were hardly any human rights issues in Zimbabwe any more, referring only to "isolated cases of violence."
However, a 2009 human rights report by the U.S. State Department tells a different story. According to the report, politically motivated, arbitrary and unlawful killings by government agents continued in 2009. "Security forces, the police, and Zanu-PF-dominated elements of the government continued to engage in the pervasive and systematic abuse of human rights," the report says.
In 2011, according toAfrica Confidential, Mujuru told business leaders that the Zanu-PF leadership and the president were completely unaware of the killings and the violence committed in the party's name.
"You heard yourself what Mugabe said, that it was a 'time of madness'. The world knows that," Mujuru told Tim Sebastian. She went on to say:
"Do we want to live in the past? Or should we now start to look forward?"
Mujuru as new president?
When Tim Sebastian asked Mujuru what use she is to Zimbabwe if she knew so little about what was happening in her country and turned a blind-eye while she was vice-president, Mujuru said that with her new opposition party, she is "trying to do things that will show that we are trying to work out solutions."
She pledged that under her lead, no further human rights violations would occur.