9 June 2020
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Tendai Biti

A week is a long time in Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe.

On Friday, 5 June 2020, I led a group of MDC-Alliance leaders to our party HQ in Nelson Mandela Avenue in Harare, to demand that the police grant us access to our own building. We were not armed, we were peaceful, and we bore no other intention other than that occupying our own headquarters which had been taken over by the security forces in the name of a fake “MDC” faction they control.

For this we were arrested and spent a day in prison in foul conditions before being charged and released on bail.

This is part of a steady and hastening trend towards failure in Zimbabwe. This event should remind the international community – along with the Southern African region — that ZANU-PF is not a reformist government, which several of the invertebrate among them prefer to believe. Nor should they ease up pressure on Harare to adhere to democratic standards.

Since Zimbabwe‘s military coup in November 2017, Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF has taken Zimbabwe to new and unprecedented depths of collapse, capture and coercion.

In under two years of his rule, Zimbabwe has back-slided into a comatose, tin-pot republic dominated by massive economic mismanagement. Unemployment is now at 95%, and inflation is over 700%, the world’s 2nd highest rate after Venezuela.
At the epicentre of Mr Mnangagwa‘s failed economics, are two things: The first is the inability of the government to live within its own means.

Billions have been spent outside the budget leading to perennial huge budget deficits that have forced the Central Bank to print money to cover the gap.

The second cause of failure is the government’s mismanagement of the exchange rate. In 2019 the government prematurely introduced its own currency. Without sound economic fundamentals to back it up, the New Zimbabwean Dollar collapsed resulting in serious market distortions and an explosion in black-market activities.

In the shops, basic commodities are in short supply, particularly sugar, cooking fat and the country’s staple mealie-meal.
Fuel queues now snake for kilometres. There have been incessant power cuts lasting up to 18 hours, particularly before Zimbabwe imposed its COVID- 19 lockdown at the end of March.
As the economy implodes, Mr Mnangagwa and his lot are presiding over the most corrupt and most extractive period since Zimbabwe’s independence 40 years ago.

Billions of dollars are siphoned off from the state, in vehicles and companies linked to senior leaders in the ZANU PF regime, their families and business associates.

Even as the lives of average Zimbabweans turn to dust, the elite continues to milk the system through their control of foreign exchange and money supply, agricultural subsidies (which they call ‘command agriculture’), fuel procurement, the mining of commodities (notably diamonds, platinum, chrome and gold); and public sector procurement.

Bad as the mismanagement and abuse of state resources are, Mr Mnangagwa’s human rights record is an even worse disaster for the country and should motivate all democrats to stand shoulder to shoulder with Zimbabwe’s opposition. The world already knew of Mr Mnangagwa’s dark past at the centre of the 1980s Gukurahundi genocide, which saw the murder of more than 20,000 people in the southern and south-western parts of the country.

In the immediate wake of the 2018 general election, the world was reminded of his ruthlessness, when eight protestors were shot dead by the military in Harare in broad daylight.
Then, in January 2019, 19 persons were shot dead by the military following protests against the massive hikes in fuel increases. During that same period, women were raped and many homes were torched. Some 600 people were arrested prompting Amnesty International to observe:

“Authorities routinely suppressed the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, using lethal and excessive force to disperse peaceful demonstrations. The police, army and intelligence operatives arbitrarily arrested several protesters, to silence and intimidate anyone suspected of participating, assisting protesters or organising demonstrations.”

In August 2019, following the threat to protest by the Movement for Democratic Change, which I serve as vice-president, 42 young persons were abducted. Several were severely tortured.
Three months later, a young vendor, Hilton Tafadzwa Tamangani was heavily tortured by the police and died in a remand prison on the 18 October 2019.

The abuses come thick and fast, and with a level of dehumanisation and violence which has become ZANU-PF’s hallmark. Just three weeks ago, three young female activists, Joanna Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri, and Netsai Marowa were abducted , tortured and sexually abused by state security agents following their participation in a street protest in one of Harare’s suburbs.

Among the methods of torture used, was the shoving, of gun barrels into the girls’ bodies, and forced consumption of each other’s urine and faeces.

But the opposition continues to struggle on, in spite of the risks and intimidation.

Craving the flow of international funds that recognition of Zimbabwe’s ‘democracy’ could bring, ZANU-PF has attempted to use a spurious court judgement to hatch a Trojan Horse within the MDC-Alliance, forcing us to hand over the leadership of the party to a rival that contested against us, and lost, in the 2018 general election.

As if that was not enough, on 3 June 2020, the military physically seized our party’s head office, Morgan Richard Tsvangirai House, and physically handed control of the premises located, ironically, in Nelson Mandela Avenue, to the rival beneficiaries.

My mission last Friday was to gain access to our own building.
At first, the police were polite and civil. Then our group began singing a popular liberation song.

Without warning or notice, or without being informed of any charge, the men and women in our group were arrested. Bundled into a police truck, we were ferried to Harare Central Police Station.

No restraint was exercised. The police were particularly rough and insensitive to two of my colleagues, 70-year old Senator David Chimhini and young Lovemore Chinoputsa who kept on demanding why we were being arrested.

The police wore no gloves. There was no social distancing in the truck; no sanitizers and no temperature checks.

At Harare Central Police Station we saw, the grisly intestines of state failure and the fingerprints of 40 years of decay and dilapidation under ZANU-PF‘s misrule.

First, we were placed in a tiny room, replete with a broken ceiling, broken chairs, an old Remington typewriter fit for a museum, and tattered police uniforms hanging from the door. It was a scene from a bad Western, one where the bandits seem to hold all the cards.

We were made to wait for hours before Superintendent Majongosi arrived to record our names, identity and phone numbers, and our addresses. He was followed, later, by another officer to advise that a charge of public disorder was being laid against our group.

Again, there was no social distancing in this little room, and nor were any santisiers or face masks made available. We stayed there for several hours. No food was offered or provided to us, despite complaints raised by Senator Chimhini who advised the police that he was diabetic and suffered from hypertension.

Our Lawyers, Beatrice Mtetwa, Alec Muchadehama and Jeremiah Bhamu later arrived and insisted that we be released as we had not committed any offence, or that we be released into our custody.

The police kept repeating that the matter was not in their hands and they were consulting, which we took as a euphemism that there were seeking directives from Mr Mnangagwa’s office.
Around 8 o’clock we were transferred to the notorious law and order department and dumped in office 93. No lights or plugs worked in that room either.

They were other prisoners present, including one policeman, Shungudzemoyo Kache, who had been charged of sedition allegedly for calling Mr Mnangangwa “a used condom”. In the room and lying on the dilapidated floor, was MDC-Alliance activist Womberai Nhende who had a huge gashes on his leg, after having been tortured and badly assaulted by the police. He was struggling to breath and was shivering.

The police did not care and no medical attention was being offered to him until our lawyers insisted that he be taken to a hospital. The men amongst us, were led to a sewer, masquerading as a toilet with filthy water running on the ground and a semi decent but ancient urinary.

There was no running water, there were no toilet paper, and there wasn’t even electricity in this toilet. There were no sanitizers in this toilet. The flushing systems were not even working.
These were the toilets reserved for day-to-day use by police officers.

Later that evening, charges were formally laid against us, we were accused of having committed a criminal nuisance by disturbing the peace and singing a song in Nelson Mandela Avenue.

In any decent criminal jurisdiction, such nuisance is a petty crime where one simply pays a fine to the police.
Despite this, the police proceeded to take our fingerprints.
Another farce followed, again further evidence of the disintegration of the basics of the software and hardware of state capacity.

Ordinarily, fingerprint taking involves the accused person placing his thumbnails and palm on a metal plate where the police would have poured ink and rolled it over with a small rolling brush.
Those things were absent.

Instead, ink was poured on a kitchen sponge, and the sponge was used to put ink on thumb nails and the palm.
That sponge was used for all the six of us.

During this time, we were squeezed in two little offices, struggling to breath, between an army of police detectives who were behaving as if we had just bombed the twin towers and a mass of civilians which included other accused persons and our own lawyers.

The process was long and tortuous and ran into the night.
A decision was then taken to detain us in the cells.
Through our lawyers, Thabani Mpofu and Sylvester Hashiti (the former who only the day before had been brought before the courts to answer some concocted charges after spending two nights in police custody), we demanded that the police cells in which we were to be detained be cleaned and sanitised.
We refused to move from the tiny office. Our resistance did not last long. We were threatened with teargas and bundled downstairs, where we found ourselves in a room with hundreds of other prisoners.

These prisoners sat on the floor, whilst we were allowed to sit on benches. Most of the prisoners, were people who had been arrested for failure to put on masks and had failed to pay fines to the arresting officers. To heap irony on the ridiculous, once again there was no social distancing, no temperature checks and no provisions of sanitizers. They took our details once more and we were asked each to name the charge were being detained for.
After this process we were then taken over to the actual cells.
No temperature checks were carried out. There was no social distancing and no sanitizers were provided.

We were each given a small piece of paper, with a detention number, and also the bag number for our possessions. My bag number was 34.

Subsequently were called individually to surrender our possessions. They took off our shoes and phones and left us with the minimum of clothes, despite the cold.
The cells were a house of horror. We were not provided blankets or mats on which to sleep.

The toilets were messy and stuffed with torn copies of the Herald, the state-owned newspaper, for which there is no better use. There was no water. We were forced to walk in filth without shoes We knew we were not safe and we were seriously compromising our health. We hardly slept.

We woke up early in the morning and we were grateful to receive food from our relatives.

My own poor mother and brother were allowed into the cells and it pained me to see that she had been crying all night and had hardly slept.

Around 10 am we were taken out of the cells back to law and order. This was the only time that temperature checks were carried on us and we were provided with sanitizers. No food or masks were provided and social distancing was not observed.
We were driven in a van, surrounded by armed vehicles to Harare Magistrate Court, where hundreds of our supporters were outnumbered by riot squad police and soldiers.

Our lawyers had already been there after having been told the previous night that court would start at 8:30 am.

We waited for an hour or so, outside the court in our van. We were told by our lawyers that there was no senior prosecutor who could handle our case, notwithstanding the minor nature of the charge.

Eventually, without explanation, and without our lawyers being advised, we were driven off from Harare Magistrate Court back to Harare Central Prison.

It was farcical and surreal. Like a poorly scripted Mr Bean movie without the comedy. Back at the prison, a very apologetic policemen advised us that they had been instructed to add more serious charges against us.

I thought they would add treason and terrorism to the charges. Our lawyers arrived shortly afterwards.

We were presented with new statements which we firmly refused to sign. We could not legitimise illegitimacy.

Well into the afternoon, we were then taken back to Harare Magistrate Court. By that time, much of the crowd that had gathered in the morning had disappeared.

We were then led, into the remand court, court 6 which was presided over by Magistrate. Through our lawyers we made complaints against the manner of our arrest, the delays associated with the court sitting, and most importantly the dangerous unhealthy conditions we were exposed to at Harare Central Police Station.

The magistrate ordered an inquiry into our complaints. We were granted bail of a thousand dollars each and were whisked downstairs to the police detention centre at the Harare Magistrate Court.

The smell of raw urine dominates Court 6 and the passage from court 6 to the underground prison cells.

The building itself is old and dilapidated. The passages are ill lit, slippery and poorly cleaned.

Downstairs, in the prison were tens of other prisoners sitting on the floor, waiting for the trucks that would ferry them to remand prison.

I have gone through this process countless times in the past when I’ve been arrested, again on spurious political charges. But one never gets used to torture and ill treatment.

There our names and details were recorded for the umpteenth time.

We were so grateful when bail was eventually paid and the six of us streamed out of that prison carrying nothing but our freedom. We were dirty, hungry, and had been physically and mentally tortured, but we were relieved.

Despite our terrible experience, we were the lucky ones. Many have died, many have been tortured and many are fearful that they will become victims of this dysfunctional, anti-democratic state.

My appeal to the world is that the lives of black Zimbabweans should matter.

Tendai Biti is the Vice President of the MDC-Alliance and the co-author of ‘Democracy Works: Rewiring Politics to Africa’s Advantage’, and was the finance minister in Zimbabwe’s unity government between 2009-13. “

Emmerson Mnangagwa