This one is a trifle out dated but the facts and circumstances remain current. I’m posting it to give you a (sour) taste of what Bennet has had to endure and is still enduring while incarcerated in Zimbabwe.
As ever we have Paul, our Man in Zimbabwe, to thank for this story.
HEY HO! LET’S GO.
Former Daily News news editor Luke Tamborinyoka speaks on his experiences while in remand prison in Harare for three months after his March arrest during a government crackdown on the opposition. The award wining journalist who now works in Zimbabwe’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s (MDC) information department is also a former Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists.
“I walked out of the prison gates at exactly 19:33hrs on Thursday, June 7 2007, after a three month-stint as a guest of the State.”
“In the glaring moonlight, I turned my back on the dilapidated two-storey building that constitutes the D-class section of this cursed and unimaginative piece of architecture. I painstakingly walked the final 10 metres to the prison fence and immediately jumped into the crushing embrace of my loving wife, Susan.”
“The D-class 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 khaki shirts and shorts, sub-standard food (ten people succumbed to diseases related to malnutrition during my stay), tight security, the company of hardened criminals and scowling prison officers.”
“Harare Remand will forever remain etched in my mind as one of tyranny’s prized institutions plucked straight from the heart of Hades; 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.”
The Harvest House Raid.
Luke’s ordeal started on a sunny Wednesday afternoon on March 28 2007. On that day, over 500 armed policemen descended on Harvest House, the MDC national headquarters.
From 12:15hrs to 15:30hrs, visibly drunk policemen wrenched open doors and seized party equipment, documents, computers and laptops.
They stole people’s mobile phones, prized open cabinet drawers and stuffed money, passports and other valuables into their pockets. Everyone was ordered to lie down. Luke says the sadists among them indiscriminately battered their 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,” he said.
“They combed cabinet drawers, ceilings and any other crevices within reach, ostensibly to recover weapons . They poked every nook and cranny. Like determined bloodhounds, they sniffed out all sorts of odd places such as toilet cisterns and air vents in search of the elusive MDC weapons.”
Luke believes their desperation was understandable in the circumstances. The following day on Thursday, June 29 2007, Mugabe was scheduled to leave for Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to explain the crackdown on the opposition.
“Mugabe’s clearly 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, and MDC activist, Gift Tandare, had been shot dead.”
“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 have given him a credible story to justify the violent crackdown on a legitimate opposition.”
No weapons were found at Harvest House. “The regime’s grand plot had fallen apart at the seams”.
Harvest House 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.
Law and Order
“That night, 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 accused of bombing petrol stations, working for a puppet opposition party which wanted to hand the country back to the white colonialists and other such drivel.”
The following day, the number of suspects was trimmed down to 23 and eventually to seven. No charges had yet been preferred against anybody.
“For three days and nights we were called out one by one then tortured and brutally assaulted with a baseball bat, clenched fists and batons. We were denied access to food, legal and medical assistance. Our physical conditions deteriorated. The torture was incessant.”
“On Saturday, March 31, 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 Luke suspects to be a member of “the dreaded state security Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO)” called him to a private room.
More allegations followed. Luke was accused of responsibility for the Roll of Shame, a column in a local weekly where the MDC’s information department named and shamed all government and ZANU PF personalities who are committing human rights abuses. He was accused of making “anti-government speeches” during the time he was secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists. He was accused of writing for “anti-government” on-line publications, of retaining his news editor position at the banned Daily News and being responsible for co-ordinating a 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 against us.”
Sabotage, Banditry and Terrorism.
“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.”
Luke was shocked at being labeled 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 1990. Even though the culprits, Kizito Chivamba and Elias Kanengoni, were convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison, Mugabe 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 January 27 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 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.”
“We’d seen the real terrorists in the Law and Order section offices, surely the most mis-named office imaginable.”
The Cases Collapse.
We were taken to court under heavy security, no magistrate was available and following the collapse of one of the accused, Luke, and his six co-defendants, were finally sent to Harare Avenue’s clinic.
“Someone must have summoned ambulances to the Magistrates Court but the police ordered that we not be allowed access to medical attention. Then Shame Wakatama, collapsed. Everyone thought he had died. It was then that the police panicked and allowed the ambulance crew to drive us to Harare’s Avenues clinic where magistrate Gloria Takundwa remanded us in custody under prison guard. The clinic staff were eager to nourish our wasted bodies and put us on intravenous drips. ”
These were violently pulled out shortly after midnight by ten gun-toting CIO operatives supported by prison guards who raided the ward, threatened the staff and frog-marched Luke and the other patients out of the building via an emergency exit
“I don’t normally give in to fear but I was jelly-kneed. They threw us into a van and they had AK-47s. The thought of driving in the deathly quiet early morning hours with armed CIO agents to an unknown destination was enough to almost paralyse one with fear.”
The state-controlled Herald newspaper went on to gleefully report the arrest of the MDC “terror-bombers”, including the “journalist-cum-activist” Luke Tamborinyoka. Three months later the cases were thrown out of court – something the Herald neglected to report.
For Luke and his colleagues they were to be three very long months.
Rat Kebabs and Prison life
“We 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.
It took the doctor two months to arrive.
“He orally interviewed 30 prisoners in about 20 minutes and then he left. The oral interview took place long after my two colleagues had been discharged to the cells even though they were still in critical condition.”
“Matibiri and I were allocated cell C6, where I carved out a place for myself near the corner.
That corner was 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 in August 2002.”
“Later, more 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. These included Ian Makone, Paul Madzore, Morgan Komichi, Phillip Katsande and Dennis Murira.”
Life in Remand prison was hell. Remand was supposed to be temporary but Luke soon discovered that some inmates had stayed there for years, seemingly abandoned by the state which brought them to the jailhouse and by relatives who no longer come to visit either because, he says, they had long died of HIV/AIDS or they had simply grown tired of the routine trips to the prison.
“More than 95% of the inmates had no relatives bringing them food and depended 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,”
The ‘MDC team’, as it became 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 assassinated 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 at 2 PM from an aluminium bin. And it is only acquired after a stampede that would leave rugby players green with envy.”
“Only adventurous 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 (light bulb) during the night when prison officers were asleep.”
The cells are overcrowded 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. Luke said 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.
“Takawawiri is waiting for the day when Mugabe wakes up in a good mood and orders the prison officers to allow him to go home and meet his family.”
In the meantime, he has 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, May 132007, 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 such nightmares.”
The officer-in-charge of Harare Remand Prison, known as Musonza, was said to have been transferred to Prison Headquarters after the incident.
Tsvangirai was thereafter “banned” from visiting Remand prison lest the officers and the inmates got into another frenzy.
Moreover, the chants of “President” directed at Tsvangirai in a government complex made a lot of people uncomfortable.
By mid-April, 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 their charge, the State consented on June 7 2007 that it had no evidence and we were eventually removed from remand.
“But another reality struck as I walked out of the prison complex, that in fact the whole country is just another bigger 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.”
Luke says the unwarranted arrests show that the regime has developed sudden bouts of panic attacks.
“Mugabe has every reason to panic. When he came to power after the crucial election of 1980, he was 56 years old.”
“Morgan Tsvangirai will be 56 on 10 March next year – a trivial statistical coincidence but maybe one that badly scares an old and superstitious tyrant.”