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Granny dies for new constitution
Walter Marwizi, The Standard (Zimbabwe)
September 23, 2007

TO many Zimbabweans the name Bronislawa Kwinjo might not immediately ring a bell.

The unheralded pro-democracy activist was buried quietly in Harare last week.

The 64-year-old grandmother was in a group of ordinary, elderly people taking an active interest in the fight for change.

Despite her advanced age, Kwinjo had apparently decided she would not stand idly by while her beloved country sank deeper and deeper into an economic and political quagmire.

She decided to act, venturing regularly out of her three-roomed house in New Mabvukuvuku to engage in street protests with other activists of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA).

They have been clubbed, tear-gassed and thrown into police cells as they marched to accentuate their demand for a new "people-driven" constitution.

But on one such mission on 25 July this year, Kwinjo was among 243 NCA activists who, after staging a demonstration in town, went to the organisation's offices unaware the police intended to raid them.

When the police arrived, forcing open the gate at 348 Herbert Chitepo Avenue, Kwinjo could not scale the pre-cast wall with the agility of the many other protesters, younger and stronger than herself, to escape the terror of the baton-wielding police.

She was picked up by heavily armed police, who started beating her, and many others, before taking them to Harare's Central police station, now notorious as one of the centres around the capital of police excesses against civilians asserting their right to demonstrate.

The other is said to be the police station at Matapi near the Mukuvisi River.

At Central police station Kwinjo endured six hours of beatings and torture by the police, who allegedly forced her to the floor, as they flailed her continuously.

It is alleged they kicked her aging back, alleging she was a witch.

At around 1130AM the police are said to have ordered her out of Harare Central. No-one seems to know how she managed to reach New Mabvuku in the dead of the night, considering her injuries.

When her daughter, Taidadirwa (34) woke up the following morning, she was shocked to discover the serious injuries on her mother's body.

But Kwinjo would not go to the clinic, fearing her injuries would raise suspicion of where she had sustained them.

Normally, the clinics require police reports in such cases.

When her condition deteriorated, Kwinjo was eventually persuaded to seek medical treatment.

A doctor advised them she needed urgent medical attention if her life were to be saved.

A specialist conducted a comprehensive examination of her condition, concluding Kwinjo might have suffered brain damage and had to be admitted at a private clinic for treatment.

On 21 August, Kwinjo fell into a coma, from which she did not recover until her death on 7 September.

Kwinjo was not the only grandmother in the trenches, as she campaigned for a new constitution for the country. Veronica Chinembiri (60) was her soul-mate. She told The Standard at Kwinjo's home where mourners were gathered on Wednesday that she held Kwinjo's hand as they were force-marched by the police into a truck that took them to Harare Central police station.

"The police were ruthless. It was clear they wanted to beat us in such a way that we would never venture into the streets again demanding a new constitution. Batons rained all over our bodies: from the head, back, everywhere. They would step on our backs with their heavy boots. They didn't care that we were grandmothers," she said.

"Female police officers were very abusive. One said we were witches, old women without shame, old women who thought they could take over the country."

Chinembiri said she did not think they would survive the beatings.

Upon their release late in the night, most of them could hardly walk, she said.

Chinembiri said she could not persuade her injured friend (Kwinjo) to go to waiting ambulances at Boomerang. The ambulances had been arranged by the NCA for the victims of police brutality to receive urgent medical assistance.

"If she had come with us," she said, "she probably would have received the urgent medical assistance. She would have been with us today. God would have helped her. She is our heroine."

Chinembiri suffers from nagging backaches. She says her departed friend had a vision of a new Zimbabwe: a country with a constitution that allowed Zimbabweans to prosper.

"We are too old," she said. "We are not engaging in these battles for our own sake but for you young people. You deserve a better Zimbabwe. We want to be remembered as heroes of this struggle."

Chinembiri says she is struggling to look after five orphaned children. She says she is too poor to afford anything in Zimbabwe these days.

Another survivor of the ordeal, Patricia Hosoro (36) was at Fife Avenue Shopping centre when we called her on Wednesday. She intended to walk to the NCA offices but her brutalised body could not endure the walk.

She told her story: "They would shout:

'She has big buttocks and she can't feel any pain. Let's beat her hard.' They kept on beating and beating me. I fainted three times."

Hosoro's left hand was bandaged.

The beatings were so severe that doctors were left with no option but to operate on her buttocks, removing flesh. Doctors contemplated performing a skin graft, but changed their mind, convinced that she would eventually recover without it.

"It has been a difficult time for us," her husband, Simbarashe Ngoshi, said. "We have been up and down, going to see the doctors. We just hope things will be fine."

Another married victim who preferred not be named had rotting flesh on her buttocks surgically removed. She underwent a skin graft but her buttocks would never regain their original shape, doctors said. They said if she had not been operated on, she would have died of her injuries.

We met her in Mbare, still in bandages, almost two months after the beatings. She can hardly sit and cannot do any domestic chores. Her supportive husband was by her side in their four-roomed house.

"When they beat us they forced us to sing: KuState House kure, hakusvikike. (State House is very far. You can't reach it.) They were determined to send a strong message to us, to abandon the struggle for a new constitution. But this will not stop us, the struggle continues," she said.

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