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Transcript of 'Hot Seat' interview with Luke Tamborinyoka - exposing the inhumanity of Zim's prisons
Violet Gonda, SW Radio Africa
August 28, 2007

Violet Gonda: Our guest on the programme Hot Seat today is the former news editor of The Daily News, Luke Tamborinyoka, who spent 71 days in remand prison as a political detainee. Tamborinyoka, who now works as an information officer for the Morgan Tsvangirai MDC, was one of the more than 30 people who were arrested shortly after the government embarked on a vicious campaign against the opposition in March.

Welcome on the programme Luke.

Luke Tamborinyoka: You are welcome Violet.

Violet: Let's start with the charges. Now, you were released on the 7 th of June after it emerged that the state had created fictitious witnesses to incriminate your group in "acts of terrorism".

Luke Tamborinyoka: Yes, we were released on the 7 th of June. We had appeared in court for more than 20 times but it was very clear that the state witnesses were fictitious. For example, they said we had orchestrated a spate of bombings in Harare , Mutare, Gweru and Masvingo.

But when asked who was their witness, the state gave the name of one "Peter Chindodhana" which was incredible on its own to imagine that while we were petrol-bombing all these places, "Chindodhana" was watching us all along.

This "Chindodhana" was also said to be staying at Porta farm in Banket. But we all know that Porta farm is in Norton. This "Chindodhana" had five numbers on his I.D card; but we all know that Zimbabweans have six numbers in the middle of that whole I.D inscription. But this "Chindodhana" only had five.

And when the magistrate asked that this man be brought to court, the state failed on three occasions. And on the fourth time, the magistrate asked that the state at least bring "Chindodhana's" I.D and birth certificate, the state again failed.

It was clear that "Chindodhana" was a fictitious character invented by the state in order to concoct these charges against us.

Violet: What about the police stations that were said were bombed. Were these also lies?

Tamborinyoka: That was a lie because it also emerged that some of these police stations had actually got burnt up as a result of electrical faults.

And in any case some of these petrol bombings took place simultaneously. So this witness was saying that; the seven of us, not acting in concert with anyone else had actually bombed these places. So it was actually unbelievable that we could bomb a police station in Masvingo and a police station in Mutare at the same time and the same night. So it was very unbelievable that we would be able to do that.

Violet: Why do you think you in particular were targeted?

Tamborinyoka: You see it was very clear because I had a call from this officer, whom I suspect is C.I.O, on a Saturday morning of the 31 st of March and he made a whole host of allegations against me.

One of these allegations was that I was still continuing with my job as the news editor of The Daily News; and that I was responsible for co-ordinating a pool of Daily News reporters in stringing for various online publications.

He sighted a particular date in October 2002 and he said I had allegedly made a certain (anti-government speech) in Gweru, at the Midlands Hotel, during my time as secretary general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists.

He also said I had made other such speeches including one on Saturday the 3 rd of May 2003 at the Harare gardens and said for all those anti government speeches I was going to be thrown into prison.

He made a whole host of allegations. He also referred to the column "Role of Shame" that was published in The Zimbabwean and said that I was the brains behind that newspaper's column.

So for all those "sins", he said I was going to be thrown into prison.

Violet: So you were being punished for the work you did as a journalist at the Daily News before you joined the MDC . . .

Tamborinyoka: Yeah, It was part of the reasons. But also they asked the same questions like why I worked for the MDC. Didn't I know that the MDC people are puppets of the whites?

But you see, the so-called crimes that he raised against me had no criminal basis so the best way was to lump me together with the so-called terror bombers.

Violet: The Mugabe regime told the SADC heads of state that you were terrorist and that you were economic saboteurs. Would you now then say they lied to the African leaders?

Tamborinyoka: Yes of course, it's the periodic lies . . . the same lies they were saying in Lusaka.

It is ironic that a lawyer like Patrick Chinamasa continues to say these things and refer to the MDC as terrorists when in fact none of the charges have stuck. What we have seen in the past one month is the collapse of the state case like a deck of cards.

The so-called allegations of terrorists who were trained in South Africa , the so-called cases against some of us who were said to have orchestrated the spate of petrol bombings across cities. No one has been convicted and even if you read the judges comments, you will find that the cases are failing to stand.

And even if you look at our case, for example, it is the state itself, which conceded before the magistrate. That it had no evidence and we were removed from remand. We were not removed from remand as a result of the magistrate's ruling; we were removed as a result of the state conceding in court that it had no evidence against us.

So it is ironic that you have people purporting to be lawyers like Chinamasa lying to the whole world that the MDC harbours terrorists and that orchestrated all these petrol bombings when there's no evidence linking the MDC to all these activities.

Violet: Do you know or believe that SADC is aware of the real situation on the ground in Zimbabwe ?

Tamborinyoka: I am not sure. I am convinced that Mugabe lauds himself over them. I am not sure what kind of fear strikes them when they see Mugabe because it is quite clear that SADC has become a boys' scout movement. And it is quite clear for some of us here in Zimbabwe that SADC; especially the SADC leaders have chosen to align themselves with the Zimbabwean leadership and not with the Zimbabwean people. It is quite clear for example that in Zimbabwe there is all these series of crisis - there is no water, no power, there is no food, there is no fuel and that has nothing to do with the colonialist mantra and the puppet mantra that this regime purports to be the cause of the Zimbabwean crisis. And it's got nothing to do with land. It's a pure case of mis-governance and so we are shocked when SADC begins to side with a tyrannical regime and not with the people of Zimbabwe .

Violet: Now you recently wrote after your release an article entitled "71 Dark Days in Mugabe's Jail," can you tell us what it was like? What conditions were you being held under?

Tamborinyoka: (sighs) I am not sure which one is better hell or Mugabe's prisons. You see remand prison is supposed to be a temporary prison where you go pending your sentence. You are supposed to be assumed innocent when you are in remand prison until convicted but I can tell you, I can tell you my sister the conditions in Harare Remand Prison are terrible!

For starters you are supposed to have three blankets. And when I say blankets I am dignifying pieces of rags that are served as blankets. And the kind of food that is served there is a morsel of sadza and boiled cabbage and water, which masquerades as soup! There is a perpetually boiling drum of water and they take a certain amount of cabbage, then they throw it in the drum. And as soon as they throw it they take it out again and serve people. And this is done on aluminium plates, which are fit to serve dogs! And the sadza is coming from bins - aluminium bins, the real bins that you see in the streets of Harare . That is exactly where the sadza is served.

Violet: It's served in aluminium bins?

Tamborinyoka: From an aluminium bin into aluminium plates, yes. It's really a real bin in the true sense of the word and then they serve it (food) into dirty aluminium plates. And it's a one-meal affair that is served around 2:20pm and at 3 o'clock you are supposed to be asleep waiting for such a ration the following day. So the conditions there are very, very terrible. For example Harare Remand is very overcrowded - especially the D Class section where we were detained. There were about 500 people there and when you want to go and bath there are about four showers and out of those four showers only two function most of the time. So you are talking about 500 people who are supposed to be using those two showers in order to bath.

And you have some inmates who have never received relatives for the past three or so years. And in any case it is a wonder why they have been there for three years when they are supposed to have been sentenced but you see that is the state of Zimbabwe .

You see when you are in prison, especially in the remand prison, you are supposed to go to court and it's because of your going to court that you are granted bail but you would find that - I think for three consecutive weeks at one time we failed to go to court. It meant the whole D-Class section there was no one who went to court because there was no diesel. The government could not afford five litres of diesel kuti vanhu vabve paRemand paya paya near Newlands (for people to travel the short distance from the remand prison near Newlands).

And because you have not gone to court it means the magistrates are not going to grant anyone bail because the inmates have not turned up. The prison officers just take your warrants to court and the magistrate just change the dates you are supposed to come to court. So no one is granted bail because you are not appearing in person. So this leads to overcrowding because there is no fuel and when you have a whole government failing to find five litres of fuel goodness me it's a crisis!!!

Violet: And it doesn't mean that these other inmates are actually guilty when they are in remand prison. They are just waiting for their day in court.

Tamborinyoka: Yes it doesn't mean that they are guilty but you see the other angle that you should look at this issue from, Violet, is this angle that if conditions are like this at Harare Remand Prison where you are supposed to be assumed guilty - in other words you are a suspect you are not a convict - you can only imagine what it must be like at Chikurubi (maximum prison), you can only imagine what it is like at Harare Central Prison if conditions are this bad in a (remand) prison where you are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.

So you are there and there is the whole host of you and some of them have never received any visitors. You get in there you are clutching your piece of soap you want to bath but as soon as you put soap in your eyes you find that you can no longer find your soap. So it's a very filthy kind of living that you undergo at Harare Remand Prison.

Violet: And how many were you in a cell. I know you said you were 500 in the area that you were in but how many would be in a cell?

Tamborinyoka: The number varies from 40 to 70 and this is a 5x7 room with an open pit that serves as a toilet and they don't flush! So you are crowded there and you are sleeping and the whole night - because of this malnutrition and the kind of food that they serve - your brothers are going there in the toilet and they are using the toilet. And some of them have diarrhoea and so forth so the whole night you have to put up with that! And also half the time you are fighting the cold and you are fighting the lice and then these brothers are using this open toilet. So it's terrible! It's terrible.

Violet: And in your article you mentioned that there was no toilet paper?

Tamborinyoka: Ya, ya there is no toilet paper. There is no toilet paper. There are no longer any rations of toilet paper. There are no longer any rations for soap so you have to make do with what is available. So half the time you find that if someone has diarrhoea there is an outcry in the cell! And there are actually some cells called cages where there is not even that open toilet. So they use buckets for both the urinal and the other kind of thing. So in the morning they have to take the buckets and offload in a proper toilet. So it's a small cage where they are about seven of them then there is a bucket there, which they use and if there is someone with diarrhoea then God help them.

Violet: And going back to the issue of food, you mentioned that only adventurous inmates such as "Reason" - you said he is one of the notorious prisoners in D-Class - could actually afford the rare taste of meat and you said he was well known for what became known as the "rat barbecue."

Tamborinyoka: Yes.

Violet: What was that exactly?

Tamborinyoka: You see there are these stray rats that move around the cells and Reason would actually murder or assassinate some of them at any given time. And then he would use the overhead globe - it's called Chadhuvha in the prisons parlance in Zimbabwe . So he would go there and roast it and then during the night he would have that rare taste of rat meat. You know they would actually remove the bulb and put the rat there - there is some scientific process that is used - it is actually the same place where they light their cigarettes. Matches are a rarity they are scarce in prison but they use that place as well to light their cigarettes. So they go up there - which is a feat on its own because it's an overhead globe several metres high but they use their own tactics there and places that rat over there and then it serves as his supper.

Violet: Oh my goodness. What about the issue of treatment? How were you treated as political prisoners?

Tamborinyoka: If you political prisoners, especially when there were 30 of us, it was quite clear we had become a threat to the usual so called peaceful atmosphere at remand prison. What happened was that we were routinely changed cells and we were later told by some who were sympathetic to us that they had planted spies in each of our cells in order to spy on what we were saying. And obviously a lot of regulations went on to be changed because of the MDC team. You would find that food (from visitors) usually used to come anytime between 9am and 3pm but because of the MDC team they later changed the regulations to say that food would only be served twice. Some of the "war veterans" amongst the prison officers argued that the MDC team was turning prison into some kind of Chicken Inn. So they weren't happy with the food that we were getting from outside. In fact they wanted us to eat the food that was being served from prisons so they reduced the number of times that we could receive food from our relatives and friends outside.

So I believe that if it had been left to them they really would have stopped us from receiving any food from outside so that we would eat the food from prison. But I think they had a tight time with the Prisons Act because the Prisons Act is very clear that if you are in remand prison you are not a convict so you are allowed to receive food from outside. So the best that they could do was to determine the time in which we could receive food from outside.

Violet: And were you tortured in remand prison?

Tamborinyoka: In remand prison we were not tortured but what would happen is that the police would come and then they would use what is called "form 86" in which the police apply to prison authorities to be given custody to someone who is already in prison. So they would use "form 86" and then they would ask some of us - like Philip Katsande was asked at one point, Kudakwashe Matibiri, (MP) Paul Madzore, (Presidential aide) Ian Makone - they would come to prison and then they would be taken back to the police station where they would be slapped with further charges and where they were further tortured. It had to take a court order - our lawyers had to go back to court - and it was only after that, that these policemen stopped coming to prisons and taking some of us back.

Violet: And can you tell us what happened to you before you were put on remand, from the day that you were arrested at Harvest House (MDC headquarters). I read in your article that " an assortment of visibly drunk policemen" opened the doors and seized party equipment and you were made to lie down on the floor for several hours. Can you tell us what happened from there?

Tamborinyoka: It was horror my sister! It was horror my sister! And it's only a tyrannical government that could afford such feat. They just came there - movie style - and they just bombarded and took over the whole office and ordered everyone to lie down. And so there we were lying down while these people were indiscriminately beating us on the back, on the head with gun butts, batons - you name it. And then later we were ordered to get into police vehicles, police busses and police vans. It was a quite a convoy! We went into these vehicles and we were taken to Harare Central police station where we spent three days.

I tell you those three days were hell! They would step on people's genitals! They would order you to lie down. They would call you one by one into a particular room - ask you questions, torture you and beat you all over the body with an assortment of weapons which included bottles filled with water with which they would hit your knees and all the other joints and they would use baseball bats to attack you all over the body and they would step you on your groin!

My friend Kudakwashe Matibiri actually suffered genital abrasions. It was torture! It was torture! It was torture! And what they would do is when they called you one by one they'd come again and call another name and I tell you to this day I can't stand the sound of slamming doors!!! Because the doors that were slammed at Law and Order were synonymous with torture. You'd know that your time is up and you are supposed to go there and you are going to receive your fair share of this kind of treatment!

Violet: I remember reporting on this issue at the time and the lawyers were complaining - that's Alex Muchadehama and Andrew Makoni - they were complaining that they were not getting enough access to their clients and that the political detainees were collapsing because of the injuries. Now the Magistrate did put you on remand in hospital, what happened then?

Tamborinyoka: My sister it's a chapter that I will never forget in my life. It was a Saturday, a sunny Saturday afternoon on the 31 st March 2008 . There we were at Avenue Clinic and we had been put on these intravenous tubes and the magistrate had remanded us in hospital until the following Monday. But wonder of wonders, around 12 at midnight, there came this group of an assortment of prison officers and this guys who I assumed to be CIO and they were shouting they had came to take us - and there you are in khaki shorts you are already under prison guard and you are in leg irons which are tied to you're bed. And these guys are shouting that they have come to take our people!

For the first time in my life I was afraid because I didn't know where these guys were taking us. They first haggled with a sister-in-charge who was arguing that we had been remanded in hospital by the magistrate and that in any case they had no right to take us without a proper discharging procedure from hospital. But you see after haggling this sister; she shouted because I think a gun had been drawn at her.

And while this was happening the other guys were busy pulling out our intravenous drugs from the wall and we were ordered to go out through the fire-escape into this van where there was another team of prison officers - I found out later they were prison officers but it was dark - who had AK riffles and they were sitting around the van and we were ordered to sit in a bench in-between and we were taken to an unknown destination. And I can tell you those 20 or so minutes that we were taken from Avenues Clinic to the remand prison were the most fearful moments of my life because we didn't know it was a prison vehicle and we didn't know where these guys were taking us.

And then they went there and they dumped us at Harare remand prison and I remember seeing Paul Madzore actually plucking the needle out of his arm and actually throwing the needle on the floor when we were at the remand prison and then the officer in charge took us and started delivering us in cells.

So, there we were 30 minutes from hospital and we were back in prison!

Violet: And what about the magistrate could she not do anything about this?

Tamborinyoka: (heavy sigh) I'm not sure but I think this was too big a case for magistrates. You see, you would look at these innocent girls (presiding magistrates) you look at their age and you see the politics surrounding this matter and you would really feel sorry for them. I remember at one time the officer- in-charge a Mr. Musonza was asked to come and testify in court after our lawyers made submissions that we had been smuggled out of hospital. I remember the officer-in-charge being asked to come and testify in court as to what had happened. The officer-in-charge clearly said that he was under instructions from above; he actually sighted the Commissioner of Prisons. He said he was under orders from the Commissioner of Prisons that we were taken to prison.

Violet: And I saw in your article you said that the Law and Order Section at Harare Central police station is the most misnamed office where neither law nor order prevailed?

Tamborinyoka: You see at any given point when there is a group of people detained at Law and Order Section, when you go there you can't believe you are in a police station, which is supposed to protect people.

You see the way they try to investigate, they take you there and they don't have any evidence and they believe that the only way that they can extract the truth from you is by beating you and they have this strange belief that truth resides from under the feet! Everyone you see at Law and Order they don't have their shoes on and they are being hit in the soles and they are just asking you to tell the truth but you are telling them the truth but they don't believe you!

You see the kind of torture that takes place in there you can't believe you are in a police station, But then they are named Law and Order and one assumes that when you are there you are going to witness law and order but they just batter people there. You can stay there for five days and they don't take you to the court as required by law. They are just trying to get the answer that they expect from you even though you have not committed any crime.

Violet: So, what kept you going during those long months in prison?

Tamborinyoka: You see its this belief in the struggle, you can tell this is the end game - the viciousness of these people - you can tell that this is the end game. But obviously we were quite lucky in that there were quite a number of us in prison, so we sort comfort in numbers.

For example we had Paul Madzore, he is a good musician he is actually a recorded musician, so we would sing in prison, we would sing songs of the struggle, we would sing gospel songs. We had Ian Makoni there, Zebediah Juwabha, Kenneth Nhemachema who had turned into some kind of preacher, and I had actually become some kind of preacher myself. So we were there and there is a big number of you and you are keeping each other company and its just the sight of seeing your fellows and the visits that we used to get from our own families and from the party leadership especially from President Morgan Tsvangirai, Secretary General Tendai Biti and other senior officials. They would visit us in prison and so this kept us going at least we knew that there was this umbilical cord between us and those outside and our firm belief from this struggle.

Violet: So, you had some idea of what was happening outside the prison cell through the people who were visiting.

Tamborinyoka: Yes,

Violet: And can you tell our listeners and readers what is written on the door of Cell C6, which was your home for the 71 days that you were in remand prison?

Tamborinyoka: On the door of Cell C6 there is an inscription there that someone wrote in white chalk "Zvichapera boys dzangu." I was musing over these words, you see they could mean a whole host of things. "Zvichapera boys dzangu" you see obviously this guy maybe he was thinking of his detention in the remand prison and maybe he was thinking that it would one day come to an end. But for me as a political prisoner I was saying to myself will this regime continue to torment its own people? Will this regime continue to incarcerate people for no apparent reason? Will this regime continue this onslaught, this unjustified onslaught on the innocent people of Zimbabwe ? And I was saying to myself and I was looking at this message - "Zvichapera boys dzangu" - and for me it was a message for Robert Mugabe.

Violet: What do you think is the strategy, you know, to overcome? What is the solution to these problems in Zimbabwe ?

Tamborinyoka: I think the whole nation should just pin its hopes on the next election and its my hope the next election is going to be a free and fair election, which is going to register the legitimate voice of the people of Zimbabwe. I have faith in the struggle that we are waging, I have faith that the people of Zimbabwe shall overcome. I have faith that tyranny will never triumph over good. I have faith in the people of Zimbabwe that we shall overcome in the next election.

Violet: But you know it's remarkable that after all that you've actually gone through you still have faith in the struggle. But on the issue of elections do you think with the way things are right know, Zimbabwe can have a free and fair election especially if its going to be held in March next year?

Tamborinyoka: One asset that you should never lose, Violet, is hope. We should never lose hope. For me I look at Charles Taylor, for me I look at Kamuzu Banda, for me I look at Mobutu Sese Seko. These were tyrants and no one thought that they would one day leave the political landscape. So, I have faith that one of these good days and I have faith that 2008 is going to be the people's year. I have faith that this regime is going to go and I have faith that time is now and I had faith that 2008 is going to be the year.

Violet: You said in your article that as you walked out of the prison complex you were struck by the fact that the whole country was just another big prison?

Tamborinyoka: Yes, you see in prison you can't visit anyone. You are incarcerated. In prison there is starvation- like I told you there is a lot of malnutrition there is no food. In prison your freedom is limited and that is exactly the same scenario we found out. People cannot visit each other. You cannot drive from Harare to Mutare because you don't have fuel. You cannot even board a bus to Musambakaruma, to Mandidzudzure, to Kazungula, to Tamandayi because you just don't have the transport fare. You can't even afford to go to hospital. So this whole country is becoming a kind of prison. Everyone's rights are constricted to a certain extent. So it was ironic that what we were simply suffering was a microcosm of what this whole country has become.

In prison you don't have the freedom to scream and shout and say whatever you want and these are the same limitations that we meet when you come out because of this battery of repressive legislation because this country has become a securocracy. There are all these people all over and you don't have liberty to even say what you want. So, it's ironic that you come out into a bigger prison.

Violet: You know speaking of human rights abuses and if I can go back to the issue of some of the people you met in remand prison - can you tell us about one Takawira Mwanza, who you said is a former army officer and has served four years for stealing Robert Mugabe's prized bull, which had been airlifted from China?

Tamborinyoka: You see it is a story that is quite popular among the inmates at Harare Remand Prison. This guy was working at Mugabe's farm and it is said that Mugabe had his prized bull that is called Garigamombe. It is alleged that bull was stolen and the time that Mwanza took his off duty at the farm coincided with the time that this bull disappeared. And further investigations revealed that Garigamombe was actually at the rural home of Mwanza. So Mwanza was actually arrested and he was sent to Chikurubi where he served his sentence. But unfortunately Mwanza happens to be at remand prison even though he has served his sentence. If you go there, you talk to him and you speak to those who are familiar with his case they would tell you that he is there because the President said he still believes this guy should be in prison. Even though he has served his sentence he is still in remand prison waiting for the day when Mugabe wakes up in a good mood and allows him to go back and meet his family! But obviously considering all these problems, the pressure that is mounting on this regime one wonders whether Mugabe will ever wake up in a good mood for a long time to come!

Violet: It's shocking that this particularly case shows that Robert Mugabe is running the country like his own private house. When you say even though this man has already served four years in prison for stock theft he is still waiting for Mugabe to pardon him and also what this story seems to expose is the extreme wealth of Robert Mugabe because airlifting a prized bull from China must have cost a fortune.

Tamborinyoka: Yes of course when you are talking about airlifting bulls - I think you are familiar with the case that all tyrants are associated with grandeur. This affinity for lavish lifestyles. This affinity for grandeur is synonymous with all tyrants all over the world even when their own people are suffering. So it's not new, it only tells you that Mugabe has entered the premium league of the world dictators!

Violet: and your final words Luke before we go?

Tamborinyoka: My word is that the people of Zimbabwe will overcome.

Violet Gonda: Thank you very much Luke Tamborinyoka

Tamborinyoka: You are welcome.

Audio interview can be heard on SW Radio Africa 's Hot Seat programme (28 August 07). Comments and feedback can be emailed to

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