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dark days in Mugabe's jail: a former Zim journalist tells his story
August 21, 2007
This is written
by former Daily News news editor Luke Tamborinyoka on his experiences
while in remand prison in Harare. Tamborinyoka was arrested together
with 41 other party activists during a government crackdown
on the opposition in March. Tamborinyoka, who is also a former
secretary general of the Zimbabwe
Union of Journalists, now works in the MDC's information department
as the technical head of the department.
HARARE - Inscribed
on the door of cell C6 at Harare Remand Prison is a simple message
in the local vernacular Shona language: "Zvichapera boyz dzangu",
a telling reminder that this suffering will eventually come to an
I walked out
of the prison gates at exactly 1933hrs on Thursday, 7 June 2007,
after a three months-stint as a guest of the State.
But even the
euphoria for new-found freedom did not erase my memory of the simple
inscription obviously scribbled by an optimistic home-sick inmate.
After what I
had gone through, it remained a pleasant surprise that I was finally
out of the belly of the beast. The ordeal had indeed come to an
In the glaring
moonlight, I turned my back to the dilapidated two-storey building
that constitutes the D-class section of this cursed and unimaginative
piece of architecture.
walked the final 10 metres to the prison fence and immediately jumped
into the crushing embrace of my loving wife, Susan.
I ordered that
we quickly drive away, never again to look back to the dingy prison
buildings where I had seen over 10 people succumb to various diseases
related to malnutrition.
section, reserved for "dangerous" suspects, was my home
for 71 dark days.
It was a place
where one had to adjust to tough conditions such as leg irons, dirty
khakhi shirts and shorts, sub-standard food, tight security, the
company of hardened criminals and scowling prison officers.
For me, Harare
Remand prison represented the dark rictus of death. It was an odd
place for hardened criminals and innocent prisoners like me whose
persecution arose simply because of our relationship with Zimbabwe's
main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party.
Prison was a potpourri of the genuinely guilty and those whom the
tyrant wanted to torment and intimidate. Harare Remand will forever
remain etched in my mind as one of tyranny's prized institutions
plucked straight from the heart of Hades.
It was a waiting
room of extreme fortunes where two cellmates could part to go to
contrasting destinations: one for home and the other for the guillotine.
My ordeal started
on a sunny Wednesday afternoon on 28 March 2007. On that day, over
500 armed policemen descended on Harvest House, the national headquarters
of the MDC.
to 1530hrs, an assortment of visibly drunk policemen wrenched open
doors and seized party equipment, from documents to computers and
They stole people's
mobile phones, prised open cabinet drawers and stuffed money, passports
and other valuables into their pockets. Everyone was ordered to
lie down while the sadists among them indiscriminately battered
our backs with batons.
My friend, Kudakwashe
Matibiri, and I lay down for close to three hours while adventure-seeking
young policemen hit us with booted feet and gun-butts.
The sorry sight
resembled a scary scene from an Alfred Hitchcock whodunit.
of death had come to Harvest House ostensibly to recover "weapons
of war" which they said were hidden at the MDC headquarters.
cabinet drawers, ceilings and any other crevices within reach. They
poked every nook and cranny. Like determined bloodhounds, they sniffed
all sorts of odd places such as toilet cisterns and air vents in
search of the elusive MDC "weapons".
was understandable in the circumstances. The following day on Thursday,
29 June 2007, Mugabe was due to leave for Dar es Salaam in Tanzania
to explain the crackdown on the opposition: his police officers
had shot dead an MDC activist, Gift Tandare. May his soul rest in
partisan police force had beaten to pulp MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai
and other senior opposition party officials. Several MDC executives
and party members had been abducted, severely beaten up and dumped
in far-away places.
Mugabe had to
have a plausible explanation for the SADC leaders in Dar es Salaam
and the prospect of an arms cache at Harvest House would give him
a credible story to justify the violent crackdown on a legitimate
They were obviously
disappointed when they failed to find even a box of matches at Harvest
House. The regime's grand plot had fallen apart at the seams.
is a six-storey building in which the MDC occupies the two upper
floors with the rest occupied by an assortment of tenants.
The police ordered
everyone in the building, including tenants and their clients, to
get into the police vehicles.
About 100 people
were taken to the infamous Room 93 of the Law and Order section
at Harare Central police station where the series of the nights
of terror immediately commenced.
we were severely assaulted. One by one we were called into another
office where all sorts of wild allegations were made against us.
We were part of the MDC thugs that had "petrol-bombed"
police stations, the police alleged.
We worked for
a puppet opposition party. We wanted to hand the country back to
the white colonialists and any such drivel associated with a regime
that is fast accelerating the nation towards an inevitable implosion.
day, the number of suspects was trimmed down to 23 and eventually
to seven. No charge had yet been preferred against us.
For three nights,
we were tortured and brutally assaulted with a baseball bat, clenched
fists and batons. Ian Makone and Paul Madzore came out the worse
for wear in the sordid ordeal.
For three days,
the beatings and assaults continued.
For three days
we were denied access to food, legal and medical assistance.
For three days,
the sadists continued to call us one by one, asking all sorts of
For three days
our condition deteriorated due to the incessant torture. They wanted
to know more about the MDC's 'democratic resistance campaign'.
that the MDC was beating up the police.
31 March, we were finally told that a court order had been obtained
that we should go home because the police had detained us for more
than 48 hours without preferring any charge against us.
It was then
that an official whom I suspect to be a member of the dreaded state
security Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) called me to a
He said I worked
in the MDC's information and publicity department and I was responsible
for the "Roll of Shame", a column in a local weekly where
the department named and shamed all government and ZANU PF personalities
who were committing human rights abuses.
to what he called "anti-government speeches" that I made
five years ago when I was secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union
of Journalists. He accused me of writing for "anti-government"
He said I had
retained my news editor's position at the banned Daily News and
I was responsible for co-ordinating the pool of former Daily News
reporters to write for anti-government on-line publications.
For my alleged
"crimes", the officer said I was going to be imprisoned.
Faced with the
prospect of releasing us on the basis of the court order, a grim-faced
officer called the seven of us into a room and read the charges
We were being
charged with carrying out a spate of petrol-bombings in Harare and
other cities. We were charged under section 24 of the Criminal
Law (Reform) Codification Act and were specifically being accused
of "resisting the government and seeking to remove the government
through acts of sabotage, banditry and terrorism."
I was shocked.
Me, a terrorist bomber?
The real terrorists
I knew were the State security agents who had pumped six bullets
into the groin of opposition activist Patrick Kombayi way back in
the culprits, Kizito Chivamba and Elias Kanengoni, were convicted
and sentenced to seven years in prison, Mugabe had pardoned them.
The real terror
bombers I knew were those who had blown The Daily News' printing
press to smithereens in the early hours of 27 January 2001. They
have never been arrested.
The terror bombers
I knew were those who had petrol-bombed The Daily News' offices
in Harare and Bulawayo in 2001.
The real terrorists
were those who in the 1980s directed and carried out the killing
of 20 000 innocent civilians in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces,
all in the name of quelling an armed insurrection in the two provinces
against the government.
The real terrorists
were those who had just murdered an MDC activist, Gift Tandare,
in cold blood in Harare-s Highfield suburb on 11 March 2007.
The real terrorists
were ruling ZANU PF party activist Tom Kainos Kitsiyatota Zimunya
and state agent Joseph Mwale, who petrol-bombed and killed MDC activists
Talent Mabika and Tichaona Chiminya in broad daylight on April 26,
2000 at Murambinda service centre in rural Buhera district.
Some of these
real terrorists have never been arrested while in the case of Mwale,
he remains an employee of the state despite a High Court order that
he be apprehended and prosecuted for the murder of Mabika and Chiminya.
In any case,
the real terrorism was the one that had just been meted out on us
at the Law and Order section offices where these strange charges
had been concocted.
It is the most
misnamed office where neither law nor order prevailed.
We were taken
to court under heavy security. This drama, of course, was meant
for the state media.
Herald newspaper went on to gleefully report the arrest of the MDC
terror-bombers, including the "journalist-cum-activist"
(When the State
case eventually collapsed like a deck of cards three months later,
the same State media thought it was not a story worth reporting
- so much for professional journalism).
There was no
magistrate when we arrived. We were almost collapsing due to hunger
and the injuries sustained after three days of torture.
have summoned ambulances to the Magistrates Court but the police
ordered that we not be allowed access to medical attention.
One of my colleagues,
Shame Wakatama, collapsed and we all thought he had died. It was
then that the police panicked and allowed the ambulance crew to
drive us to Harare-s Avenues clinic.
The court later
convened at the clinic and magistrate Gloria Takundwa remanded us
in hospital under prison guard until the following Monday. We were
put on intravenous tubes by hospital staff eager to nourish and
boost our wasted bodies.
But the worst
was yet to come!
I am not ordinarily
given to fear. But when about 10 gun-totting agents of the state-s
spy Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) backed by prison officers
burst into the clinic at around midnight and demanded to take "our
people", I became jelly-kneed.
They scared the hell out of an adamant sister-in-charge, violently
plucked out our intravenous tubes and frog-marched us via the emergency
exit to a nearby van.
The sight of
AK rifles in the van was frightening but the thought of driving
in the deathly quiet early morning hours with armed CIO agents to
an unknown destination was enough to almost paraylse one with fear.
The eight of
us were later dumped at Harare Remand prison at around 1:30hrs,
breaking the prison-s own record of "check-in"
time in the process.
Zebediah Juaba and Brighton Matimba who had come out worst during
the torture, were immediately taken to the ill-equipped prison hospital
to await the attention of a government doctor.
was to pitch up at the prison complex after two months and orally
interviewed the 30 of us in about 20 minutes.
The oral interview
took place long after my two colleagues had been discharged to the
cells even though they were still in critical condition.
I were allocated cell C6, where I carved out a place for myself
near the corner.
was later to be referred to as the "MDC-s Information
Corner" after it emerged it was in the same corner where the
late party spokesperson Learnmore Jongwe met his mysterious death
MDC activists were to join us in Remand Prison and more were to
be detained at the prison hospital where they never saw a doctor.
Ian Makone, Paul Madzore, Morgan Komichi, Phillip Katsande and Dennis
Life in prison
was an ordeal on its own. Remand prison is supposed to be temporary
but some inmates had stayed at the prison for years, seemingly abandoned
by the state which brought them to the jailhouse and by relatives
who no longer come to visit either because they have long died of
HIV/AIDS or they have simply grown tired of the routine trips to
More than 95
percent of the inmates have no relatives who bring them food and
they depend on the prison meal of a morsel of sadza (thick porridge
made from maize) and cabbage boiled in salted water.
Rations of soap
and toilet paper were last seen in the 1980s, we were told and a
colleague, Arthur Mhizha, learnt the hard lesson that in a Zimbabwean
prison, you bathe with one hand while with the other, you hang on
to your prized piece of soap.
team-, as we were known, became famous for donating some of
its food to other inmates, including Fungai Murisa, one of the ZANU
PF activists who is facing a murder charge after he and others allegedly
murdered an MDC activist in Makoni East in Manicaland province.
Food is acquired
at a premium in prison. It is a one-meal per day affair served from
an aluminium bin. Yes! A bin! And it is only acquired after a stampede
that would leave rugby players green with envy.
inmates such as Reason, one of the most notorious prisoners in D-class,
could afford the rare taste of meat. He was well known for what
became known as the "rat barbecue."
He would "murder"
the stray rats that patronized the dirty toilet chamber in cell
C6 and roast them on the overhead globe during the night when prison
officers are snoring the night away.
For the less
adventurous, it was one meal of sadza and cabbage, taken every day
at around 2pm before everyone was ordered to retire to bed at around
The cells are
another overcrowded affair, with an average of between 45 and 70
prisoners sharing a single cell and battling the night away in the
usual pastime of fighting away the cold and killing lice.
One also learnt
to meet with suspects with fascinating and sometimes just unbelievable
stories of how they ended up in jail. One such character was Takawira
Mwanza, a former army officer who was arrested and served four years
for stealing Mugabe-s prized bull from his Norton farm.
The bull, which
was airlifted from China, turned up at Mwanza-s rural home
in Sanyati. Mwanza says that even though he served his sentence
for stock theft at Chikurubi Maximum Prison, Mugabe was not happy
that he should be left to go home.
He says he is
currently languishing at Harare Remand prison, waiting for the day
when Mugabe wakes up in a good mood and order the prison officers
to allow him to go home and meet his family.
In the meantime,
he has to contend with his two blankets in his beloved corner in
cell C6 at Harare remand prison.
The MDC president,
Morgan Tsvangirai, left his own mark at Remand prison. On Monday,
13 May 2007, he came to visit us and when he proceeded to see Morgan
Komichi in the prison hospital, there was chaos from other sections
when both inmates and prison officers went into a frenzy, shouting
"President" as they stampeded to catch a glimpse of
the man who has given Mugabe a nightmare.
of Harare Remand Prison, known as Musonza, was transferred to Prison
Headquarters after the incident.
also "banned" from visiting Remand prison lest the officers
and the inmates got into another frenzy!
chants of "President" directed at Tsvangirai in a government
complex made a lot of people uncomfortable!
there were 30 MDC activists in prison, some shot and abducted from
their homes while others were arrested in the streets of Harare
to face the same charges of terrorism.
What kept us
going was the inspiring presence of Ian Makone, the simplicity of
Zebedia Juaba, the comforting singing from Paul Madzore and Shame
Wakatama and the gospel teachings of Kenneth Nhemachena.
In June, the
State case began to crumble after it emerged that it had created
fictitious witnesses to incriminate us in acts of terrorism.
For our charge,
the State consented on 7 June 2007 that it had no evidence and we
were eventually removed from remand.
reality struck as I walked out of the prison complex, that in fact
the whole country was just another big prison. Harare Remand was
simply a microcosm of what the whole country has become.
There is no
food on the shelves; starvation is stalking the nation and people
can no longer afford to visit each other because of prohibitive
transport costs. Zimbabwe has simply become a big prison with Mugabe
as the chief warden.
arrest showed that the regime has developed sudden bouts of panic.
Mugabe has every reason to panic. When he came to power after the
crucial election of 1980, he was 56 years old.
will be 56 on 10 March next year - a trivial statistical coincidence
but maybe one that could still scare an old tyrant in an advanced
state of panic.
* Luke Tamborinyoka
is currently writing a book on his experiences and his stint in
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