Zim Journoâ€™s Story Of Prison Horror Experience
I was having a beer drink at a popular city joint with fellow journalist and close acquaintances. It was our Bulawayo office manager Belinda Moyo, calling.
She was to deliver some worrying news that would send shivers cascading down my spine, and stimulate my appetite for even more alcohol to manage the resultant stress and apprehension.
Voice quivering with emotion and apparent concern, Belinda informed me that detectives from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had just been to our office looking for me.
They desired to have a discourse with me in connection with a news story that I had written days earlier revealing that traditional examinations to determine candidates suitable for promotion within the Zimbabwe Republic Police ranks had been scraped to accommodate
retirees and war veterans who were being recruited.
Instantaneously, I became a bag of nerves. An eerie, imaginary voice told me that my inevitable rendezvous with the law enforcement agents would not be a rosy affair.
I knew I could be locked up for days like many other local journalists who have been accused of writing stories deemed untrue or offensive to the government. I also knew that the specter of harassment and physical harm was probable.
Tuesday night passed like a wink, and sooner than I expected, it was Wednesday morning. As I headed for work, my mind was working overdrive, churning out questions whose answers I could not find.
Will they arrest me? If indeed I am arrested, will they throw me in jail? Will I stand the filth in detention? Will they harass me? But why would they arrest me in the first place? Are they disputing that story? Or perhaps they just want me to identify my source?
All these questions came fast and furious, like an avalanche in my mind. But only the police could answer them. With my lawyer Josphat Tshuma, I voluntarily reported to the CID Law
and Order Section at the Bulawayo Central Police Station around 9am.
This was a visit that was to result in my incarceration and subsequent ten-day detention.
A case of criminal defamation against the police was opened, my finger prints were taken, and then, an agonizingly grueling, back-and-forth interrogation started.
Some of the questions that had I had grappled with earlier came up.
Authoritatively, the police demanded: Who is the source of your story? Do you realize how malicious your false story is? Where is the evidence? The questioning went on, and on.
At around 2:30 pm, the detectives broke the news that I most dreaded.
They were detaining me over night. This triggered a furious and frantic protestation by my lawyer, but it all was to no avail. The police would not budge. My adrenalin ran awfully high and my heart pounded like a mega-machine. The reality of being thrown into cells that I had heard
some, including Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) activists Jenny Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu criticizing as unfit for human habitation was unsettling, as it was bloodcurdling.
True to their promise, the police tossed me into a squalid cell that reeked of all foul imaginable. I was joining a few other detainees who had been locked up for misdemeanours ranging from loitering to pick pocketing.
I was detained for two days at the Central Police Station. Family members and colleagues brought me mounds of otherwise delicious food.
But I found it all tasteless. My appetite was dead. I was more concerned about my fate than ingestion.
Unable to eat most of the times, I advanced my food to fellow detainees who ravenously helped themselves. I became their benefactor.
There was no ablution facilities at the Central Police Station, and that translated into two days without a shower.
Due to poor ventilation, the stench in the cell was unbearable. It was so uncomfortable that at some point, I chocked.
Two days of hell passed and on Friday afternoon, I was arraigned in court for initial remand. I was highly hopeful that I would be granted bail and regain my freedom. But those hopes were shattered into smithereens when presiding magistrate, Sibongile Msipa deferred my bail application to Monday 22, remanding me in custody.
My heart sank as I listened to her. I was to spend the weekend at Khami Maximum Remand Prison, tasting first-hand life at a facility notorious for disease and death. It’s also a place where the hardest of criminals are environed to serve their jail sentences.
Friday night, Saturday and Sunday were the most difficult days of my incarceration. The feeling of being at Khami was traumatizing. The fear of being bludgeoned to death or sodomised by some hard-core criminal repeatedly haunted me.
When I arrived at Khami late Friday with several other inmates, some mean-looking guards ordered us to remove our prison garb and parade in our under pants. “Take off your clothes lina mabhantinti (you prisoners),” barked one guard.
This experience was humiliating and degrading, to say the least. The weekend appeared to stretch like a whole month. I just couldn’t wait to be bailed out of this place. And when Monday came, I breathed a sigh of relief. Together with other detainees, I was transported back to court for a ruling on my bail application.
As if I was a big-time criminal, I was brought to court in leg irons, handcuffed with an armed robber who was appearing for remand.
Indeed, my bail application was granted. At last I was tasting freedom, I assured myself. But it was not to be. My joy was instantly turned into anguish when the prosecution invoked Section 121 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act opposing my bail and seeking further detention while they prepared to appeal.
Technically, this meant that the State could detain me for a further seven days. But my lawyer, Tshuma promised he would pull out all the stops to move the process forward and facilitate my release.
I was taken back to Khami Prison where I made a number of friends, serious offenders and petty criminals. I opened up and told them my story. I was surprised at their support. We dabbled in various subjects ranging from soccer to politics. Some of them wished President Robert Mugabe dead.
Some felt that Highlanders was on the rebound while some said Dynamos will lift the premier league title this year. The other trashed all the leaders in the inclusive government. “I think I can rule better than them,” he remarked, much to our laughter. We survived on a diet of the staple sadza and spinach at Khami. It was monotonous.
The stench from toilets at this facility was more severe than that at the Bulawayo Central Police Station, but some inmates seemed not to mind it as they would go about eating their food as if all was well.
Life was just hell at Khami, as it was at the Bulawayo Central Police Station. The trauma of imprisonment was unbearable. I rarely slept, and when I did, I had nightmares. I screamed out loud at one point, begging an assailant not to kill me, according to my fellow inmates.
My family members and colleagues paid me regular visits. They brought me newspapers that were censored by prison authorities. Stories with political connotations were all cut off, I guess to keep me off the loop. I was only allowed to read entertainment and sports.
What struck me most about Khami Prison was the number of one-legged prisoners and those walking with crutches. All of them were suspected armed robbers who, in mutual conversations, told me that they had been shot by investigating CID officers.
One of them was apparently ailing, and to make matters worse, the courts were denying him bail, he told me.
My stint at Khami came to an end on Friday, after spending 10 days in custody. It was around 12:30pm when I was called to the Administration Office and informed that I was a free man. High Court Judge Nicholas Mathonsi had ordered my release. I was overwhelmed.
The psychological trauma still haunts me, although I went to see a counsellor. The counsellor told me: “From all the discussion that we have had, my honest assessment is that your heart is bottled with hurt and pain.
“Mentally, the experience of spending days in prison has affected you…you are not yourself…you have a lot of fear.”
Indeed, it was a fear engendered by incarceration, subsequent detention and humiliation of being paraded in underwear in front of fellow prisoners the Khami facility.