Christmas Day, 2020
Jacob Ngarivhume Convenor of the July 31st Movement – a Civil Rights Movement
25 December 2020 is Christmas day. I woke up early; way before 5.00am. My programme was hectic. My team had lined up key engagements for the day.
First, the day would start with a visit to the Kuchengetana Trust in Chitungwiza where Samantha runs an amazing feeding scheme for children and other vulnerable citizens. Our plan was to spend our day with her and appreciate what she goes through while doing such a splendid job.
But we could afford such a luxury because Friday was a reporting day to the police. Following my violent arrest on 20 July 2020, I spent a harsh 45 days in unjust detention. I was eventually granted bail together with my compatriot Hopewell Chin’ono by the High Court. My bail conditions are unreasonably strict. Other than the fifty thousand dollars I had to pay, they seized my passport and asked me to report three times a week to Waterfalls Police Station, which I have been doing religiously for the past four months.
This, though, has become a cruel yoke. The authorities have got us where they want us; we cannot travel nor can we do meaningful work. We feel the heavy load of oppression upon our shoulders. Every year I farm at my rural home. But this year it has been impossible because of my onerous bail conditions. I could not travel home to Bikita and Chimanimani because I have to report to the police three times a week. The police station has become my second home.
My arrest was not only completely unnecessary; it was a travesty of justice. I specifically called for peaceful anti-corruption demonstrations set for the 31st of July 2020. In my view, and in the mind of the many fellow citizens who joined me, our call was absolutely just. Zimbabwe is a blessed nation, but completely run down by corruption, among other ills. Corruption is now endemic in our nation. We could no longer just sit and wait, and do nothing. We had to act. When I called for the peaceful protests, my belief and expectation was that all Zimbabweans would embrace it, including the President.
Alas! How wrong I was. They deliberately misinterpreted my campaign against corruption as a threat to overthrow the government. It seems clear to me, and to many other citizens, that they clamped down on the protests because their very survival depends on corruption. If corruption falls, they fall too. But when we decided to persist with our campaign, I started to receive death threats and threats of arrest. I had to become a wanderer, seldom sleeping at home, and never sleeping at the same place twice.
On 18 July 2020 I received a text message from a South African number saying that if I am lucky, they will arrest me within two days, but most likely they would kill me.
On the 20th of July I was arrested, together with my friend and compatriot Hopwell Chin’ono. We spent 45 days in filthy cells, no functional toilets, no social distancing, and having to fight for our every right in court, including medical attention, warm food, visits, etc. That story we have shared often enough. Weeks later our great friend and fearless fighter for democracy, Job Sikhala, was also arrested and detained with us at Chikurubi Maximum Prison. While we suffered terrible moments together, we were blessed with a great opportunity to build a lasting friendship. And we did not waste that chance.
A week before Christmas, Hopewell approached the High Court and got his passport back temporarily to travel to South Africa for medical attention. Job approached the same high court and got his reporting conditions relaxed to reporting once a week. I did the same, yet they refused to relax my reporting conditions. Amazing! This level of inconsistency from the same court is hardly surprising. Such callous decisions define exactly who they are, and they don’t care one bit. Many are accused of being captured, and you can’t help but feel that it’s quite true!
On Christmas day we had agreed with my brother Job to join hands and do the reporting together. We agreed to start from Chitungwiza and then go to Hatfield and then Harare Central. Following my meeting with community activist and fearless fighter, Vongai Zimudzi, she decided to join us on this Christmas rendezvous.
My programme started with the visit to Kuchengetana Trust. Mai Ngarivhume joined me on the trip. We were there before 7.00 am and watched them prepare porridge to feed the children. As early as 6.00 am some of the children were already queuing waiting to be served. Samantha and her family are surely doing a lot of amazing work! We realised a number of areas that need attention. And so we will go back with assistance there.
From Unit A we travelled to St Marys where I picked up my friend Job to go to the local police station to report. As I had not been to his house before, I called him to ask if he could give me directions. He simply said, “ask anyone they will tell you where I live”. We did, and we were directed accordingly! Everyone in the car commented on the great leadership of our brother. Easy accessibility is a core benchmark of good leadership!
We reported at St Marys Police Station. When we were inside the station, Job showed me trenches which the military dug inside the police station overlooking the road to Harare in preparation of the peaceful 31st July peaceful. The plan was to ‘shoot’ at whoever was going to Harare from Chitungwiza. I could not believe it. It dawned on me that this regime must actually believe its own lies. Before my arrest, they were peddling lies that we were sponsored by the Americans and that we wanted to overthrow the government. But I obviously thought that, since they knew they were lying, they could never believe their own lies.
But alas! They do. Crazy. We have to grapple with the fact that they believe that if citizens call for an end to corruption, they must be sponsored by the West. They cannot imagine that we Zimbabweans have the capacity to demand an end to corruption on our own initiative. Madness. Such is the mind of the oppressor. He conjures up threats in his own mind to create a big illusion!
We then drove to Harare Central Police where Vongai reported. We met Jim Kunaka there, arrested the previous day by the CIO and then dumped at Harare Central Police Station. Years before Jim terrorised many citizens with the support of the ruling party, Zanu-PF. He apologised later when he was expelled from the party. Following the coup, he found himself on the other side of the isle. One can only be astounded at such a turn of events.
From Harare Central Police we went to my local police station in Waterfalls. I have become a familiar face there. The yoke of oppression is what characterises me there. They know I come virtually every other day. My reporting form is not kept with the rest, but separately in the Officer-in-Charge’s office. This is a huge inconvenience. On some days, when I want to take the chance to travel and meet people outside Harare, I go early to the police station. But I usually find that the office is closed. Although I have challenged this arrangement, they insist the instruction is to keep my form secure so that no one ‘steals’ it. It’s crazy.
While at Waterfalls Police, Job met a policeman who was a former top security aide to the late MDC President, Morgan Tsvangirai, but who is now a full-time police officer. We ponder whether he was a member of the police force way back then. Wonders never cease when people are fighting a dictatorship!
We ended the exhausting reporting process at my house where Mrs Ngarivhume prepared some Christmas lunch for us. We settled down to hours of deep and intense discussions. We concluded that we need to prepare for a long and demanding fight to end corruption in this country. We were honest with each other: Zanu PF holds all the leavers of control to influence the judiciary, the police, CIO, the military and many other state institutions, which must be made independent. They serve at their pleasure without shame. In that case we have to be prepared to suffer the worst.
The determination of the team gave me hope and inspiration. While the regime uses every tool at their disposal, we depend on our only available tool; our inner strength derived from the righteousness of our cause! We all agreed that during this journey we will suffer the scorn and humiliation poured on us by Zanu-PF and its sympathisers. We will suffer the shame of being falsely accused and imprisoned for crimes we did not commit. We will suffer the terror of threats on our lives and those of our loved ones. We will suffer the agony of false reports written and shamelessly circulated about wrongs we never committed. This is the cross we have to bare for the sake of all.
Our resolve is unshakeable. Our will to fight corruption is neither dimed nor diminished. Our call for citizens to be vigilant in this fight only becomes more persistent and urgent. A better day for our nation is on the horizon. The more we are persecuted, the more determined we are to resist, stand strong, and fight.
On Monday I am back at the police station once again.