Yvonne Musarurwa smiles, saying NO! to the tyrants of Zimbabwe

Yvonne Musarurwa immediately after being sentenced

On Monday, in Harare, Yvonne Musarurwa and two comrades were sentenced to twenty years in prison. Photos show Yvonne Musarurwa immediately after the sentencing, and she’s smiling, perhaps laughing. As it was in Hades and then Algeria, so in Zimbabwe today, “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a woman’s heart. One must imagine Yvonne Musarurwa happy.”

In 2011, 29 MDC-T supporters were arrested on suspicion of having killed a police officer. In 2013, 21 were acquitted because of lack of evidence. There was no evidence, and yet they remained behind bars, in Chikurubi, some for more than two years. The High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu took great pains to discuss the case of human rights activist Cynthia Manjoro. Manjoro had been released on bail in 2012, after a State witness testified that Manjoro had been arrested “as bait” to lure her boyfriend into a trap. Cynthia Manjoro spent May 2011 to October 2012 in prison. That left eight in the hellhole of Chikurubi. In August 2013, Rebecca Mafukeni died … or was killed. Rebecca Mafukeni had meningitis, she was clearly deteriorating quickly when the judge repeatedly refused bail and all appeals for medical attention were rejected.

Yvonne Musarurwa was with Rebecca Mafukeni in Chikurubi Prison and recalled the ordeal: “The first weeks in police custody were the toughest. We were being interrogated, beaten and tortured. I’ve never felt so much pain in life before. I sustained a broken hand; lacerations all over the body and the only thing I got for all that were a few tablets of paracetamol. They said we were MDC and that there was every chance we would influence the other prisoners and clash with others from ZANU PF. This is why they kept us in solitary confinement. The conditions though were very bad. We stayed in cells that had raw sewage passing through and we cleaned that up using our bare hands. That was the most difficult part and I told myself the day Zimbabwe is free from tyranny, I will personally go to the Minister of Justice and those in charge of prisons to tell them exactly what needs to be done.”

That was 2013. This week, three years later, Yvonne Musarurwa, Tungamirai Madzokere, and Last Maengahama were sentenced to 20 years, despite eyewitnesses stating in court that the three were innocent, despite a complete lack of evidence, despite video evidence that Last Maengahama was in a church miles away when the officer was killed. According to Beatrice Mtetwa, who leads the defense team, the three were convicted based on the doctrine of common purpose, an archaic doctrine by which one may be found guilty of another’s crime. The State went to great lengths to convict Yvonne Musarurwa and her colleagues.

Yvonne Musarurwa is 29 years old. She has spent the last five years in the clutches of the State for a crime she never committed. How many more years until Yvonne Musarurwa, and the rest of Zimbabwe, are freed from prison for a crime they never committed? In Zimbabwe, the State is the crime. For now we must continue to imagine, and see, Yvonne Musarurwa smiling, knowing exactly what needs to be done.

Yvonne Musarurwa

 

(Photo Credit 1: Nehanda Radio) (Photo Credit 2: Nehanda Radio)

Chikurubi = death. Tear it down!


“In the endless moments that I spent in the cells at Highlands police station, I did not imagine that I could ever be in a worse place. That was before Chikurubi. As it turns out, hell is other people, especially when those other people are your fellow women prisoners and there has been no water for a week and flies are buzzing over the gamashura and the only ablution possible is to run a dry towel across your body, hoping that the dirt and smell will somehow be absorbed by as inadequate an object as a prison-issue towel with a visible thread count”
Petina Gappah, The Book of Memory: A Novel

This is the Republic of Chikurubi, aka Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe pardoned more than 2000 prisoners this week: “The amnesty has freed all convicted female prisoners … leaving Chikurubi Female Prison literally empty. Only two females serving life sentences have been left behind.” No one was freed, but they were released from prison, and the prison is not literally empty, both because there are still women prisoners inside and because we have been here before and we know Chikurubi is not empty until Chikurubi is torn down once and for all.

These prisoners were sent home ostensibly because the prisons are overcrowded, but the prisons in Zimbabwe have always been overcrowded and toxic. In 2013, the Deputy Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services reported that 100 or so prisoners had died that year due to lack of food and medication. They died slowly, starving and writhing in pain, and so in February 2014, Robert Mugabe “freed” thousands of prisoners. In 2009, Robert Mugabe “freed” 2,513 prisoners, due to overcrowding.

Meanwhile, Chikurubi still stands. Built by Rhodesia in 1970, the year that entity declared itself a republic, and maintained since by Zimbabwe, from the first day to today, Chikurubi has been “notorious for its filthy, freezing and overcrowded cells infested by maggots and rats.” It’s the one constant, and that’s why Zimbabwe is truly the Republic of Chikurubi. Half the population dies of starvation one year, and there’s barely a murmur. A two-year old child, Nigel Mutemagawo, is abducted and held in custody for 76 days. He was held in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison for close to two weeks: “Medical reports show that during his abduction and continued detention for charges of banditry and terrorism, two year-old Nigel was assaulted and denied food and medical attention by his captors.” He was two years old. Prominent human rights and women’s rights advocates, such as Jestina Mukoko, are tortured in Chikurubi. What of it? Women like Rebecca Mafukeni are denied access to necessary medication and die in Chikurubi. Too bad. Rosemary Margaret Khumalo, affectionately known as Makhumalo, died, waiting for the new Constitution to be followed. Bad luck.

While it’s a relief to the women and their families and friends and communities to no longer have to sit in the hellhole that is Chikurubi, the flies are still buzzing over the gamashura. Don’t call it freedom. There is no freedom in the Republic of Chikurubi until the Chikurubi prison is destroyed, first the buildings and then structures. Don’t fix it; be done with it. Chikurubi = death. #ChikurubiMustFall

(Photo Credit: International Business Times / Jekesai Nijikizana /AFP /Getty Images)

Rosemary Margaret Khumalo died last month


Rosemary Margaret Khumalo, affectionately known as Makhumalo, died last month: “Rosemary Margaret Khumalo died on death row on the 15th of July at Chikurubi Maximum Prison before the Constitutional application to set aside her death sentence could be heard by the Constitutional Court.” Khumalo, 59-years-old, had spent the last 15 years on death row.

Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa commented, “Being on death row for an unduly long period is a violation of one’s rights. I do not know why she was on death row for such a long period time. Either someone did not know what they were doing or they did not want to execute her. It is a blow on the justice system of Zimbabwe.”

Chiedza Simbo, director of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA), said, “It is with immense sadness that ZWLA celebrates the role Rosemary Margaret Khumalo played in defending the rights of women embodied in the new Constitution of Zimbabwe,”

Rita Nyamupinga, Director of Female Prisoners Support Trust (Femprist) reflected: “Makhumalo was so brave even after being sentenced to death she could smile and share her story without any reservation. She used to say ‘I am telling you because this place is not good, wanzvaka? (you hear?) with a Ndebele accent. She was in there from 1999 when she was sentenced to death for murder. All she wished for was to be released if they could not hang her. She said she had repented but could not bear the torture any longer. She was so prayerful, at times we would fail to pray but she would encourage us to soldier on … Every time we parted she would remind us not to take long before visiting her. At times we would take our time because of the after effects of the previous visit. In February 2014 after the Presidential Amnesty we all thought Makhumalo was eventually going but it was never to be.”

In many ways, Makhumalo’s story is typical of death penalty countries. Sentenced to death, she then waited, often in solitary isolation, for the hangman to come. He never did. The reasons for her long stay are unclear. On one hand, Zimbabwe is a de facto death penalty abolitionist country, largely due to the inability to find someone to actually conduct the executions. On a different, but not opposite, hand, the vast majority of those on death row are poor. As Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe chairperson Virginia Muwanigwa noted: “We want the death penalty to be removed from our constitution and our laws completely. One important reason for this is that it is mostly poor people who often get hanged.”

As in Zimbabwe, so in the United States and elsewhere. A recent US court ruling found that the main cause for death row delays is the State’s foot-dragging and underfunding of its indigent defense system.

But Rosemary Khumalo’s story has a twist. Last year, Zimbabwe passed a new Constitution, which exempts women, men under 21, and everyone over 70 from the death penalty. The new Constitution also does away with mandatory sentencing. For Khumalo and Shylet Sibanda, the only other woman on death row, this seemed promising. They appealed to courts and were denied their appeal because of lack of “urgency.” Khumalo appealed directly to the Presidency, on five occasions, and was rejected twice, and didn’t hear back on three other occasions.

Her lawyers argued from the basis of human and Constitutional rights and due process. Rosemary Khumalo pleaded as a woman, as a human being. She did not say she was innocent. She said she had repented. Those around her confirmed the substance of that claim.

Rosemary Khumalo was so close to release and so very far from freedom. In her last years, she lived with dignity, which is hard won in the killing conditions of Chikurubi. The years were hard, but the real story is not the long years. It’s death row: “‘I am telling you because this place is not good, wanzvaka? (you hear?).” Remember: this place is not good. Remember Rosemary Margaret Khumala, affectionately known as Makhumalo.

(Photo Credit: Nehanda Radio)

In Zimbabwe, prison = death

The Republic of Chikurubi is getting worse. Last week, Zimbabwe’s “justice ministry” and prison officials revealed that at least 100 prisoners died from hunger and starvation this year. At least 100. Given Zimbabwe’s prisons, they could as easily have been remand prisoners as convicted prisoners, but really, what difference does it make? They’re dead, and they died a long, slow, painful, harrowing death. If that’s not torture, what is?

There is shock but no surprise here. Four years ago, a report on death and disease in Zimbabwe’s prisons began: “A bare struggle for survival, with food at its core, has come to define prison life in Zimbabwe. Describing the conditions in two of the capital city Harare’s main prisons in late 2008, a prison officer explained: “we’ve gone the whole year in which—for prisoners and prison officers—the food is hand to mouth…They’ll be lucky to get one meal. Sometimes they’ll sleep without. We have moving skeletons, moving graves. They’re dying.” Prison staff have had to convert cells and storage rooms to “hospital wards” for the dying and to makeshift mortuaries, where bodies “rotted on the floor with maggots moving all around”. They have had to create mass graves within prison grounds to accommodate the dead. In many prisons, the dead took over whole cells, and competed for space with the living. Prisoners described how the sick and the healthy slept side by side, packed together like sardines, with those who died in the night. A former prisoner, a young man, struggled to convey the horror of these conditions: “That place, I haven’t got the words…. I can describe it as hell on earth—though they say it’s more than hell.” Another simply said, “The story of the prisons is starvation”.”

As prisoners lose the bare struggle for survival, humanity loses the bare struggle for dignity. Doctors, lawyers, ex-prisoners, prisoners’ family and friends, prison staff, and others have written repeatedly that Zimbabwe’s prisons are death traps. Some talk about “necropolitics”, the power politics of death. They say necropolitics is “the power and the capacity to dictate who may live and who must die.” In Zimbabwe’s prisons, it’s not about living and dying. It’s about ways of dying. There’s torture, and there’s starvation. Life or death is not the currency. The currency is pain and suffering.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, which is a government agency, has shut off water to Marondera Prison: “About 500 inmates at the Marondera Prison are at risk of contracting waterborne diseases after the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) disconnected water supplies over a $375,000 Bill… The complex has not had water since December 4th raising prospects of an outbreak of diseases such as cholera.” The officer in charge of the prison describes it as “a time bomb.”

Torture. Death by starvation. Cholera. In the prisons of Zimbabwe, the time bomb has long exploded. It’s beyond time for a real change.

 

(Photo Credit: News Day Zimbabwe)

Rebecca Mafukeni, citizen of the Republic of Chikurubi

Rebecca Mafukeni died last month, in remand in Zimbabwe’s `notorious’ Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. She had meningitis. Her bail application was denied. Her appeals for medication attention were rejected, and so Rebecca Mafukeni died … or was killed.

Mafukeni was one of 29 MDC-T supporters who were arrested two years ago, in 2011, on suspicion of having killed a police officer. Last week, 21 were acquitted because of lack of evidence. There was no evidence, and yet they remained behind bars, in Chikurubi, some for more than two years. The High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu took great pains to discuss the case of human rights activist Cynthia Manjoro. Manjoro had been released on bail in 2012, after a State witness testified that Manjoro had only been arrested “as bait” to lure her boyfriend into a trap. Whatever the plan was, Manjoro spent May 2011 to October 2012 in prison.

Yvonne Musarurwa had been with Rebecca Mafukeni in Chikurubi. She has described the experience as a nightmare, especially the months long period held in complete solitary confinement, under a `no human contact’ order. During that period, they thought they were Zimbabwe’s “most isolated women.”

This is the story of women’s lives, and deaths, in the Republic of Chikurubi. Chikurubi is one of those prisons that give notorious a bad name. It is the house of beatings, intimidation, sexual violence, and degradation. It is a place in which people are meant to rot, literally. It is a women’s prison where violence against women extends from overcrowding to refusal to dispense sanitary pads to direct sexual violence to torture to continual abuse and threats to isolation. It is a place that aims to destroy people, individuals, families, communities. In Chikurubi, the personal is political, and the politics is death.

Ask Jestina Mukoko. Ask Beatrice Mtetwa. Ask Violet Mupfuranhehwe. Ask Jennie Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu. Ask Cynthia Manjoro. They’ll tell you. Ask Yvonne Musarurwa. She’ll tell you: “During the first few weeks, we couldn’t cope with living in prison. Rebecca and I broke down completely. We thought we were going to die. But slowly, when we realized there were people who have been there many years before us, the condemned prisoners, we thought okay, we might make it as well.”

We might make it as well. Rest in peace, Rebecca Mafukeni. The struggle continues. We might make it as well.

(Photo credit: Newsday)

Bordering on peace: Save Zimbabwe Now!

School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks

Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not go back at all

School’s out forever
School’s out for summer
School’s out with fever
School’s out completely

Welcome to Zimbabwe, where even Alice Cooper becomes a prophet. The schools of Zimbabwe are closed. One more organ shuts down. Here’s a week in the death of a nation and a map of the borderlands.

Zimbabwe is not dying. No. Zimbabwe is being choked by killing off its health services. Zimbabwe is being violently kidnapped, disappeared, tortured, til death do us part. Zimbabwe is being negotiated to death, while schools stay closed. Do not confuse dying with murder.

The year ahead looks even bleaker, without seed or with reduced international aid. 10 out 13 million people live in abject poverty … in a land filled with natural riches. Zimbabwe has become a `factory for poverty’. Zimbabwe has entered the business of poverty production. Zimbabwe can give you a great deal on cholera and is willing to consider reasonable offers for hunger. It’s the sale to end all sales.

Have the people of Zimbabwe suffered enough yet? Suffered enough for what? As Zimbabwean Pastor Wilson Mugabe said last week, “We have become beggars … yesterday we were people who could feed the whole of Southern Africa. Hear us, we have suffered enough.” Who measures and weighs the suffering, who decides who lives, who dies, who suffers, who cries? Zimbabwe is a lesson, a curriculum. Zimbabwe closes schools, and thereby teaches the region and the world: “This is a lesson to our region. We came together to liberate ourselves, but now [we see] that power can pervert you to become precisely the opposite of what led you to become a freedom fighter. This is a lesson to other liberation movements in our region.”  The people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough.

Over the last five months, tens of thousands have fled Zimbabwe for South Africa. Zimbabwe inflation is at 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillian percent. Is that really a number? Zimbabwe cholera death soars past 2700. It will rise to 3000 by week’s. Just another day in the death of a nation. Life in Zimbabwe is `precarious’. The women of Zimbabwe have taken to the roads. Many, such as the members of the Kubatana Cooperative, sell goods by the side of the road. For women in Zimbabwe, life is not only precarious, it’s perilous. Jennie Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu are sort of released from prison; Jestina Mukoko and her comrades remain in Chikurubi Maximum Prison, and everyone wonders about those disappeared who are “still missing.” Then Chris Dhlamini and six others, abducted and then `revealed’ in Chikurubi, were reported as misplaced. Misplaced. In Zimbabwe today, reporting that the person you abducted and then smuggled into prison without any charges is now missing, that’s called transparency. We need a new Zimbabwe dictionary that will explain the words, transparency, currency, death, negotiation, hunger, hope. We need a new Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has been `misplaced.’

Desperate children and women flee Zimbabwe for the bleak horror show that is Musina, South Africa. For the children, life in Musina is precarious and perilous. For the women: “While the stories of the refugee children are troubling — with penury in Zimbabwe being exchanged for penury here — many of the more horrifying stories in the city involve the rapes of helpless women.” They are not helpless, they managed to cross the border. For Zimbabwean women, life is more than precarious and more than perilous.

The SADC talks on Zimbabwe fail. Joy Mabenge of the Institute for Democratic Alternatives for Zimbabwe, concludes, “”The pronouncement that the political talks are dead is likely to trigger mass protests. For now the masses are trapped and indeed arrested in false hopes of either an inclusive government or a transitional authority being consummated. The nation has reached a tipping point and what the ordinary people are waiting for is in historical terms the 28 June 1914 Sarajevo assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand to trigger some sort of coordinated civil disobedience.” Now that’s a democratic alternative. Meanwhile, the school system is in total collapse. Teachers can’t afford to teach and so sell goods on the street. Women teachers , women who were business owners, traders, accountants, secretaries and PAs, police, they cross the borders, into Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana, and enter the sex work industry. Last year, 30,000 Zimbabwean teachers left the educational system; 10,000 now live in South Africa.

The killing of Zimbabwe includes the story of borders. It is a story of neighboring nation-states equating security with peace, and so closing their borders. It is a story of distant nation-states claiming that national sovereignty, borders, is the basis of the rule of law. The only crisis, the only emergency, that supersedes national sovereignty, the rule of borders, is military. So, SADC dithers. The UN dithers. All nation-states dither.

The world dithers, and Zimbabwe continues to be killed. Zimbabweans keep crossing the borders out. But who crosses in? Recently, people have started to question the sanctity of those borders, the logic of outflow. In the past week, with the launch of Save Zimbabwe Now, something new emerged. Save Zimbabwe Now has called on people of conscience to engage in a personal collective action, fasting and monitoring. Yesterday, Nomboniso Gasa of the South African Commission for Gender Equality and a member of Save Zimbabwe Now, put governments on notice that people of conscience, people who want Zimbabwe to be free today from hunger, oppression and poverty, would be monitors. The test for competency to become a monitor is trust. Not a blue helmet worn nor a civil service exam passed: “by sheer silence… they condone what is happening – so what basis do we have to trust them!” Trust.

As Graca Machel said at the launch of the Save Zimbabwe Now campaign, Zimbabwe is a lesson. Even when the schools are closed. Yvonne Vera knew this, the lesson that is Zimbabwe. Her last novel, The Stone Virgins, ends on a double note of education. On one hand, there’s Nonceba, who is remarkably educated: “there are not many people with a good high school certificate in the city. She has an advantage. Education for everyone is being constantly interrupted by the war. Schools close down. They remain closed. Especially, the mission schools located in rural areas. Nonceba has an astounding capacity for joy.”

And there’s her partner, Cephas: “His task is to learn to recreate the manner in which the tenderest branches bend, meet, and dry, the way grass folds smoothly over this frame and weaves a nest, the way it protects the cool livable place within; deliverance.”

The schools must be opened today, the hospitals and clinics as well. People must have access to their own and their shared capacity for joy. At the same time, the cool livable place within must be learned. The borders must be opened so that exile is not confused for deliverance. Save Zimbabwe now, not from itself but rather from those who are murdering it.

 

(Image Credit: Save Zimbabwe Now Campaign / Twitter.com)

 

The Republic of Chikurubi


What passes today for good news from the government of Zimbabwe? The 100-trillion dollar note? No. The rate of deaths from cholera exceeding the rate of inflation, having topped 2000? Not even close.  “The twisted arithmetic of crumbling Zimbabwe” that makes burials out of reach of ordinary peoples’ economies? Nope. Give up?

Good news in Zimbabwe is the release of two-year old bandit terrorist Nigel Mutemagawo, abducted, held in custody for 76 days, held at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison for close to two weeks: “Medical reports show that during his abduction and continued detention for charges of banditry and terrorism, two year-old Nigel was assaulted and denied food and medical attention by his captors.” Two years old. Talk about early childhood education. Not to worry, though. The news isn’t all good. Nigel’s parents, Violet Mupfuranhehwe and Collen Mutemagawo, remain `in custody’, and Nigel was sent to MDC officials, “who are total strangers.” Zimbabwe has figured out both the national security issue and child care. Democratic socialists, take note.

Jestina Mukoko appeared in court Thursday, January 15: “Jestina Mukoko, a well-known human rights campaigner in Zimbabwe, was forced to kneel on gravel for hours and was beaten on the soles of her feet with rubber truncheons during interrogations, she said in a sworn statement recently submitted to a court in Zimbabwe.” Not to fear, the rule of law still presides in Zimbabwe: “Zimbabwe’s director of prosecutions, Florence Ziyambi, said Thursday that Mukoko’s rights were not violated by her detention.`She can ask for remedies and compensation for the ill treatment she claims she went through,’ Ziyambi said.” In 100-trillion dollar notes, no doubt.  It’s a good thing that Zimbabwe’s Attorney General had already declared Mukoko a national and societal threat and had said that she would stay in jail, no matter what the courts decide.

While the Big Parties do and don’t negotiate, people, ordinary extraordinary, are changed, perhaps forever. Beatrice Mtetwa said of Jestina Mukoko, after her two court appearances on Thursday: “It’s like she’s no longer the same person they took away.” She is no longer the same person they took away.

Where was Jestina Mukoko taken? Where was Violet Mupfuranhehwe taken?  “All the female detainees, including the former ZBC broadcaster, are being held in solitary confinement in the male section of the notorious Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison – an area of the prison reserved for only the hardest of criminals.” Perhaps this is the government’s plan, to change the name and substance of the country from Zimbabwe to Chikurubi: worthless money, rampant disease, collapsed infrastructure, feuding gangs committed to interminable conflict. Sounds right.

What if every country were renamed according to its most notorious prison? The Republic of Zimbabwe could become the Republic of Chikurubi. The United States of America could become the United States of Guantanamo. The Republic of Turkey could become the Republic of Imrali. The Republic of Indonesia could become the Republic of Nusakambangan. The Commonwealth of Australia could become the Commonwealth of Christmas Island. The possibilities of translation are endless. They form a chain, an archipelago, around the globe. Where were Jestina Mukoko and Violet Mupfuranhehwe taken? The Republic of Chikurubi. Where did they go? That remains to be seen.

(Photo Credit: Reuters / Philimon Bulawayo)