By Richard Chidza | AFTER three months as a guest at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison for her participation in the protests that rocked Zimbabwe in July, activist Linda Masarira’s spirit is as strong as ever and continues to call on President Robert Mugabe to resign.
Masarira (LM), who is on bail in another case where she is accused of insulting Mugabe, remains determined in her cause. In this interview, she talks to The Standard Senior Reporter Richard Chidza (RC) about her resolve to improve life for Zimbabweans. Below are excerpts of the interview:
RC: Who is Linda Masarira? Could you give us a brief about yourself?
LM: I am a human rights activist. I am a person who has a passion for justice and hates oppression of any colour or form with a passion. I worked for the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) as an assistant train driver as well as a trade unionist from 2006 up to 2012 when I was dismissed. I was relieved of my duties last year for demanding outstanding salaries.
RC: But at a personal level, who are you?
LM: I am a mother of five children. My husband is late and I am a single mother. It’s painful but they [arrests and incarceration]are occupational hazards. Someone has to do something. When I made the decision to go into active activism, I sat them [my children] down and told them they should prepare for anything, including getting killed. My daughter wrote me a letter while I was in prison saying, “You are my #Tajamuka Warrior”, it was touching.
RC: And your involvement in activism, how did it all begin?
LM: I am an action person, radical and do not want sitting in hotels as well as such niceties as meetings because they do not bring results. I was chairperson of the workers’ committee for a year, doubled up as president of Trainmen Workers’ Union. However, authorities barred us from operating within the NRZ and instead they sought to bribe us out of unionism. They were used to paying union leaders whenever the issue of workers’ salaries came up but we rejected their bribes and wanted everyone to be paid.
RC: What is your current political affiliation?
LM: I am secretary for recruitment and mobilisation for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). I became more active when the PDP was formed but before then I was a passive activist. Since then, I have been instrumental in the formation of #Tajamuka and the Zimbabwe Women in Politics Alliance. The idea was to provide a platform for women to come together irrespective of political affiliation to challenge social stereotypes. To challenge the idea that we must sit and listen while positions are given to us as men dictate — at times as tokens of appreciation for sexual favours provided. Zanu PF was scared out of its wits because women were coming together. I wanted to bring women together using my courage. Women’s voices are not heard and they are used as sex objects. Our idea was to empower women and help them to refuse to be used as tools in decision-making. We had gained momentum but then I was arrested. It’s a challenge to register it because the State has a preconceived fear of Linda Masarira.
RC: What are your demands personally and as a collective with those you are working with? How practical are they and to what extent do you think government would be willing to accede to these?
LM: I am also chairperson of Occupy Africa Unity Square (OAUS). Our demands are about a new leadership, a new political dispensation and attitude with the interests of the people being supreme. The current leadership is insensitive, corrupt and cruel. They do not care about people. It is about themselves, they have failed and [they are] selfish as well as greedy. Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of Africa and now we are the laughing stock of the world.
RC: What is your view of President Mugabe?
LM: I do not see him as my leader. He ceased to have that moral high ground a long time ago, so he can rant all he wants, but I am sure millions of other Zimbabweans feel the same way. I believe he has lost it and that he does not represent the aspirations and future of our country anymore. Mugabe abuses the people who have put him in power. I want him to step down. He does not need to be forced. He has to understand that he is old, has lost touch with reality and that Zimbabwe needs leaders who understand contemporary global trends, and we have these in abundance. Zimbabwe is not personal property. But unfortunately, we have allowed him to turn this country into a fiefdom and a family property.
RC: But he was elected with an overwhelming majority. At least that is what the records show and he is in charge of the affairs of the State. Or is he not?
LM: Let’s be realistic, when people are pushed, hurried, harassed, brutalised, violated and forced to support or vote for one man as a way of retaining power, the legitimacy of those abusing people is always up in the air. It is always questioned. Mugabe, three years after forcing his way into the hearts of Zimbabweans in 2013, is still searching for legitimacy and it is unfortunately not found on podiums at rallies and global or regional events. I want the laws of this land to be aligned to the Constitution. Government has been given the money and we are going to push for that through legal challenges. The Statutory Instruments they are using against the people are ultra vires the Constitution.
RC: You seem to care less about what could happen to you in an environment replete with political liquidations, why?
LM: I take the courage from knowing that I was made in God’s image and he will protect me. I believe I was ordained for a time like this. I planted a seed to fight for freedom and I will live to see freedom. I will not die unless God gives the go ahead. They can try. I was abducted in 2012 for three days in Bulawayo. They assaulted me and I have scars from the use of brute force. They wanted to know who was sending me, but I was fighting for my money at the time.
RC: You were arrested and there are reports you have a pending case in Mutare, what happened?
LM: I am also on bail for insulting the president. I was addressing people as a workers’ representative in Mutare. I told people that the president as head of government that is in charge of parastatals was responsible for our situation. That he was responsible for the NRZ’s failure to pay our salaries. I told my fellow workers that Mugabe has failed and he is rubbish. I have not denied this even in court.
I was then arrested just after the meeting for insulting the president and am awaiting trial for that. It is how I feel about him and I am not sure how that will translate into a crime. He is a politician and now and then he has insulted other people but nobody has arrested him. The law must be seen to protect us all. We cannot have a law for him and other laws for everyone else when the Constitution says we are equal before the law. The equality must be seen in the implementation of the law and practice.
RC: The denial of bail, how did it feel?
LM: I felt powerful. The prosecutor said I am a State security threat and I realised I was a threat to Zanu PF. At least they are scared of someone. It means whatever we are doing, there has been some impact. I am happy with it. We will not back down. Look at education and health. Just look around you, there is evidence of failure everywhere. It’s been 36 years of failure. Mugabe and his government should just resign. They are only interested in looting. They have forced out good farmers and now we are buying maize from Zambia grown by the same farmers we pushed out.
RC: Reports indicated you became some sort of rebel leader in jail?
LM: They tried to break me but they failed. You know these people have a way of trying to take away your dignity and self-esteem. I used reverse psychology and used the crass language they use on prisoners on the security personnel. I mocked them the same way they mock jailed people. I actually made lemonade out of the lemons they gave me. They moved me from the female prison because I was fighting for the rights of those prisoners. Women were forced to work but I reminded the authorities that those on remand need not work because they were yet to be convicted. Only convicts whom the courts would have sentenced to labour are supposed to work. The women listened to me and refused to go to the prison gardens and the authorities were angry.
I would also fight for better food. Donors give decent food for prisoners but because prison guards are not being paid well and on time, they take it to their homes. They loot everything from bread to sanitarywear. This is what we were fighting for. Prison guards are living off donated food. At one time I stood up to tell donors that the things they were donating would be looted. On the same day the donations were shared among prisoners. Prison security personnel were angry with me. I have hypertension and need a special diet. In August there was a rumour they wanted to poison me. I was tipped and told them I could not trust them. The officer- in-charge admitted there was talk about politicians being poisoned during the war, hence I could have misinterpreted the issue. But the fact that they talked about it and my name was involved scared me. I went to court and realised they had thrown away my food and I made noise. The officer-in-charge was called from home before I was moved into solitary confinement.
RC: How did solitary confinement feel?
LM: I felt good and told myself that I am dying for this country….(laughs).
RC: There have been reports of activists being injected with unknown substances; any truth in this?
LM: Silvanos Mudzvova was abducted and injected. I have seen a vendor Kudakwashe, brutally arrested and injected. Three people I was with in prison have also been assaulted and injected. Zanu PF has taken their brutality to the next level. We also need to take the fight to the next level. We are going to the next level. They have taken the brutality to the next level. They have the police and we have the brains and energy and we will use these.
RC: What is that they are being injected with?
LM: We do not know. Maybe it is slow poison and we can only speculate for now until such time the substance is found and tested.
RC: Do you think political leaders in the opposition movement have failed Zimbabweans?
LM: We have not done enough. We need to change our mindsets, our conceptions and attitude. Our problem is that we live in a fake comfort zone. As long as they eat and drive, they are okay. But we need to reclaim our power
RC: What are prison guards saying about the situation? Do they understand the need for change of government?
LM: Some believe they need change, but most of them are Green Bombers. They live in squalid conditions and they do not realise they are in trouble. A few know, the rest are puppets and they have been conditioned. The officer-in-charge of the female prison told me I am powerful outside prison but I told him ndotonga kwese kunze nemukati [I am powerful in or outside jail].