Nightmare in a Zimbabwe prison – A journalist account

What started off as a normal assignment for the two journalists ended up as a nightmare. The two ended up sharing a tiny filthy prison cell with 20 others. One of the journalists feared this could be a taste of what is to come next year if elections are held as planned by President Robert Mugabe.

“I want journalists who write lies about the country to be hanged”, said one contributor to the constitutional outreach meeting the journalist was covering at Hopley Farm, believed to be seized by one of Mugabe’s supporters.

“I want those who write lies to be banned and jailed”, “I want government to stop what happens in the country being broadcast outside,” continued the contributions from different other participants at the meeting.

“It did not occur to me that I would be a dress rehearsal of what they were clamouring for,” said Nkosana Dhlamini who was arrested last Saturday together with freelance photo-journalist, Andrison Manyere who was also covering the public meeting.

“I had hardly started interviewing one Diana Nyikadzino, a participant I picked randomly from the crowd. I later learnt that she is an Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) youth,” said Dhlamini after his release.

“The crowd was angered by the sight of a journalist interviewing someone who had earlier said Zimbabwe’s national youth programme should be depoliticised.

“The predominantly Zanu (PF) crowd charged at us hurling all sorts of unprintables. I said my prayers.”

“Vatengesi ngavarohwe, (beat the damn sell outs),” they clamoured.

“Some went straight for me while others went for Diana.”

“Rovai hure iri (beat the prostitute),” they shouted, “This country did not come that easy. We fought for it.”

“A fist blow missed my face by inches. Someone grabbed my shirt. Two buttons fell off. A flying shoe landed on my lungs.”

“Bullshit. You ‘MDC people’ want to bring homosexuality to this country. Are you not ashamed? Stupid.”

“Some reached for my pockets and took my note book, voice recorder, cash, pen, digital camera, driver’s licence and accreditation card. In no time my pockets were empty,” said Dhlamini.

Manyere was picked when he filmed the incident. His camera was grabbed. He was ordered to delete the footage but the mad crowd still could not give him the chance.

“Two others were taken from the crowd and brought to join us. I soon realised they had come in the company of Diana. We were now five.”

“Police fought to save us while frantically trying to control the mob. The incident took about 10 minutes.

“I felt a small relief when a fellow victim said he had brought a pickup truck.

“We were loaded on its back in handcuffs. I screamed for my valuables which were begrudgingly delivered without my accreditation card. Police kept them as “crime exhibits”.

“Two vocal war veterans jumped along with a dozen uniformed and plain clothes cops for the 15 minute drive to the Waterfalls police station.

“Police bosses, state agents and other strangers thronged the station. We were called one by one and questioned why we had “disrupted” the gathering.

“We were ordered to run the material we had recorded while my notebooks were perused page by page.

“Meanwhile, a man was brought to the station with blood oozing from his head. He was stabbed minutes after we had left the place for contributing “wrong” views. No one was arrested.

“We spent six hours held there but police could not decide on what crime to charge us.

“Twenty inmates packed the small cell.  A thick stench of faeces hung within. The lice infested blankets almost damaged my nostrils.
“Twenty inmates packed the small cell.  A thick stench of faeces hung within. The lice infested blankets almost damaged my nostrils
“I had never endured a night so cold and so long.

“I had never slept in a police cell before. I also did not imagine it would take a simple interview for me to taste the dungeon.

After spending 25 hours in custody, we were finally fined US$20 for “criminal nuisance”.

“After that, everything about us was recorded. They asked for each one’s residential address, bank account numbers, nature of assets owned, weapons one is familiar with, girlfriends and passport details among others.”