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Personal account: Events of Wednesday 13th September, 2006 - ZCTU demonstration
Kerry Kay
September 24, 2006

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At about 10am on Wednesday Traffic and Riot Police had already started diverting traffic away from Nelson Mandela Avenue around Construction House, where the ZCTU demonstration was due to start at 12 midday.

On my arrival in the vicinity at 11.45 am there was a heavy Riot police presence. I sat for over an hour watching them. There were a number of MDC and ZCTU officials and activists waiting around Bakers Inn. The Riot Police were without doubt going to provoke a situation. They were stopping passersby and questioning them and in many cases grabbing their arms aggressively, and telling them to get out of the area.

The demo finally started around 1pm with about 12 people singing and dancing in the street. It was over in seconds. The demonstrators were ordered to sit down and then the Riot police went beserk. They beat the people so viciously and brutally it was a terrible and shocking spectacle to witness. I feared for their lives. All the Policemen raised their baton sticks way above their heads and then brought them down in full force against the peoples bodies. listen to audio

I was seen to be taking photo’s by a CIO operative who pulled me aside to question me. Grace Kwinje distracted him and gave me the "disappear" look! I hid in a nearby Bank and when I thought the coast was clear, slipped out and went round the corner. The next minute there was a tsunami of bodies surging panic stricken past me. Before I could turn around I was hit by a baton stick on the back by one of three Riot cops telling me I was under arrest. I refused to hand over my camera or my cell phone. Having been told to switch off my phone, I called Iain and left the phone open so he could hear what was going on. Fortunately we passed Tendai Biti so I was able to advise him of the situation. While climbing into the open Land Rover I saw that Grace Kwinje had also been arrested.

As we were driving past Harvest House (MDC) the Land Rover screeched to a halt and five of the six Riot cops leapt out and just grabbed passersby and a few people who were standing watching us, and proceeded to beat them shouting "what are you doing on the streets?". Having satisfied their lust for violence once again, they jumped back in and we were then handed over to the CIO just outside the Anglican Cathedral. Again I was told to hand over my camera but refused to do so – I said I would only hand it to a senior Police detail if I were to be charged. listen to audio

There were two suited Chinese gentlemen with cameras standing on the steps of the Cathedral, smiling – waiting for what? The demo was supposed to end outside Parliament. It did make me wonder if their suppression of dissent tactics in China, ending in the massacre of Tianamen Square, is being leant to the Mugabe regime? Their involvement in Operation Murambastvina was visible ie. military uniformed Chinese men seen in the Army vehicles at the sites of destruction was ominous to say the least.

We were then taken to Harare Central Police station where we met up with the ZCTU leaders and members already arrested. The station car park was teeming with Police and riot members and we were heavily guarded! It was brought to our attention over the next few days that we had been referred to as "ZCTU terrorists bent on killing the President". One fails to be able to connect a peaceful demonstration to terrorism, unless ZANU PF has added a new word to its dictionary.

Having been officially booked into the holding cell-block we awaited the arrival of our lawyers. Access to our lawyers was denied. The lawyers spent five hours at the Station attempting to gain access to us, their clients. It was flatly refused. We were also denied the opportunity to speak with our relatives when they brought us food and water. listen to audio

The following are the Human Rights abuses encountered in the Harare Central Police cells:

  • Access to legal practitioners denied.
  • Brutal and savage torture and beating of prisoners (Matapi Police Station).
  • Access to relatives denied.
  • No food or water offered by Police.
  • No blankets supplied.
  • Very little light, mostly kept in darkness.
  • Extreme verbal abuse and in some cases prisoners kicked or hit with a broken hosepipe.
  • All the toilets in the cells were overflowing with human excreta.
  • The majority of the cells had raw sewage covering the floor and overflowing into the passages.
  • No access to water for drinking or washing.

The stench was so stifling that it caught in the back ones throat and eventually stuck there. As prisoners we were not allowed to wear our shoes, which meant we were walking in raw sewage. With very little lighting it meant it was impossible to avoid stepping into this disgusting filth. We brought this to the attention of the duty Police Officers and were told "those are the rules". Some prisoners wrapped their feet in bread packets but were told to "pfeka mapackets". listen to audio

As we were taken up to the top of the building for our first roll call, our eyes were adjusting to the darkness on the first floor, when we heard a roar of excitement and singing and we then realized we were in jail with our WOZA sisters. It was a heart warming welcome to the world of detention! Arms came flying through the bars and there were hugs all round till the Officer with his "rova pipe" (piece of hose pipe used for beating) shouted to us to move on.

Due to the uninhabitable state of the cells we were all left with no option but to "sleep" on the concrete floor in the passage. There were about forty WOZA women so we all squashed up together for warmth and to keep out of the way of the sewage creeping along the passage.

Each toilet has a tap above it to flush the contents away, but there was no water.

The first morning I saw a civilian cleaner and asked him to show me where the water source was. Once I knew, I was able to get water to flush out the toilet in only one cell. Cleaning it was not a pleasant task but I felt if we were to be there for a few days we had to have some place for a "comfort break"! However it was soon back to where it was in the beginning so Grace took her turn as the "plumbing consultant".

We even managed to get a bottle of Sanpic in with our food pack, as well as Doom Spray to kill the tsikitsi (bed bugs). One of our group captured about fifty of these bugs and placed them in a plastic packet to be kept as "Exhibit A"!

The duty officers were cussed constantly by the ZCTU inmates, for their lack of professionalism, their abusive manner, the police violence, the inhuman conditions in the cells etc. One of the younger ZCTU members got very vociferous at one of the roll calls and was threatened with a beating "ndichakurova". He just yelled back, "you can beat me all you like, you are not Policemen, you are just thugs in uniform". Am sure they were pleased to see our backs!

On Thursday we were not formally charged and our fingerprints were not taken. We still had not been accessed by the lawyers.

By now we had heard that the ZCTU leadership and an MDC senior official had been detained at the notorious Matapi Police Station at Mbare. That Station is a well- known torture center and has been condemned by the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe as "unfit for human habitation". That night – we thought about 9 pm, the Matapi contingent were moved to join us at Central. It was a pitiful sight to see those 14 physically and mentally battered and brutalized figures appearing. Three could hardly walk or stand. The solidarity and comraderie was tangible as we all shook hands or hugged our friends and offered our deepest empathies. They told us of their ordeal and how they had been told on arrival at Matapi by the Police (Army?) details "we are not trained to write dockets, we are trained to kill". They were taken two at a time into a room and brutally beaten by five men with knobkerries and long baton sticks for up to twenty minutes.

It was clear that they were all in desperate need of Medical attention, which had been denied them at Matapi Police Station.

The Duty Officer made arrangements for their removal to Parirenyatwa Hospital and the pitiful group shuffled out with some hope of relief in their hearts. Many hours later they all returned, bandaged, X-rayed, and obviously all still in great pain.

To have to "sleep" or sit on the filthy concrete floors for hours through the night and the next day must ave been agony for them, not to mention the time spent in worse conditions at Matapi.

Friday morning, the documentation and fingerprinting procedures started. The Police detail doing the fingerprinting was excellent at his job and soon got through all 20 of us very quickly. Time was of the essence as we had to get to Court before 3pm in order to apply for Bail. The option of remaining in the cesspool over the weekend was a bleak one. However there were other Officers who were not so efficient and there was a definite push by the CIO to delay matters in order to keep us in custody.

We saw our lawyers for the first time that morning and were given great hope when one of them showed us the High Court Order she had obtained saying that if we were not brought before the Courts by 1600hours on Friday, then the Police were ordered to release us. Many of us know from previous experience that Police seldom comply with High Court Orders, especially if the men in dark glasses are involved!

Once the documentation was completed we were taken back to the cells to be released. This can only be done if the Investigating Officer (IO) is present to book and sign each prisoner out, so we were accompanied by a Sergeant who was to stand in for the IO. Also booking out a prisoner (presumably?) was a CIO operative.

He was heard quite clearly saying to the Sergeant "get out of here before I arrest you". In a flash and a blur, the Sgt. was gone. Proof that the Presidents Office was doing all in its power to delay our release. Well there was nearly a riot.

We were eventually all booked/signed out, collected our property and herded out to the car park. Time was clearly running out. 24 of us were squashed into a Land Rover and a pick up truck and the doors closed. Then! The IO finds that he is one statement short and we all need to debus so he can take the final statement.

This elicited a rowdy cussing of Police unprofessionalism and delaying tactics from all of us. It was now about 2.45pm and we were understandably getting agitated.

A lawyer was present so the remaining statement was duly taken (or found!?) and we were off to court escorted by the wailing siren of a Police B-car.

Were we high profile dangerous criminals or was someone trying to expedite our arrival at the Courts? I like to think the latter.

As we drove out of the station our truck erupted in song and this continued all the way to the Courts. On the steps of the Court were a group of people including journalists, members of the Diplomatic corps,well-wishers and members of the ZCTU.Eventually at 4.10pm the case opened. The Court was jam packed. It was very encouraging to see ones relatives there, but especially leaders such as Morgan Tsvangirai, President of the MDC and Dr. Lovemore Madhuku, Chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly.

Two lawyers, with two assisting lawyers, led the defense case in a concise and professional manner. The Prosecutor then presented the State’s case. He claimed that the accuseds had used derogatory statements referring to Police as "mugabes dogs", that they had disrupted traffic at a busy time of day (Police had been diverting traffic for hours) and generally disturbed the peace. He went on to say "further to that they (the accuseds) had caused some Policemen to sustain injuries and had damaged some Police vehicles". Well there was a spontaneous eruption of laughter from all present, including many of the large number of Police and Prison officers in the courtroom. Coming from a supposedly intelligent man that was the most ludicrous

statement to make, and just goes to show how desperate the State is to attempt to make a "terrorist" trial out of absolutely nothing.

The highest penalty for the charge proffered against us, if found guilty, would be a fine not exceeding $2,000 (two thousand dollars). The State did not oppose bail but wanted the following bail conditions imposed:

  • surrender travel documents
  • deposit of $20,000
  • twice weekly reporting to Harare Central Police Station.

The defense argued the unreasonableness of the conditions, which were eventually set at bail of $20,000 and Friday reporting to the Police Station. The accused persons were remanded until the 3rd October. 2006.

My experience with the majority of the Police Officers (duty Policemen, militia in Police uniform and CIO operatives) and Prison officers, has shown that the indoctrination has been deeply entrenched in the younger members. There is a total lack of respect for human rights, their behavior is extremely aggressive and abusive, verbally and physically. To see these people enjoying sadistic and brutal savagery says something about our country at this time. Sadly this is the order of the day.

To end on a positive note there were a couple of "old school" Police and Prison Officers who were professional, compassionate to those brutalized, and fair in their treatment. Thank God for those few, it keeps hope alive.

My belief is that God puts us in certain places at certain times for a reason. I have learnt a great deal in the past few days, and it has made me even more committed to our beloved country, to see democratic change, and the rebuilding of so many shattered lives, hopes and dreams.

Where there are witnesses to brutality, there will eventually be accountability and justice.

Audio File

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