Resilience Behind Bars: A Reflection on Seven Months in Prison
5 November 2023
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By Jacob Ngarivhume

It is seven months since magistrate Feresi Chakanyuka sentenced me to four years in prison for “calling for anti-corruption demonstrations”. One year was suspended and am effectively serving three years.

Yes in 2020 I called for peaceful anti corruption demonstrations. I take no regrets about that. The huge irony of it all is the fact that I was convicted for “tweeting” an inciting “tweet” on a Twitter account I never owned. Infact the twitter account that is on my charge sheet @ngarivhume does not exist. You can check for yourself. No member of the big Ngarivhume family when own such a Twitter account.

In my case neither the police nor state ever tried to check and verify with Twitter whose account @ngarivhume really is. They still managed to convict, not because of any evidence but because they are everything, they have all it takes to sentence citizens they take to be enemies. One attribute they have which they always draw on is they have no human heart towards their perceived opponents. And I do not expect them to have anyway.

When I came to prison, my legal team assured me that they won’t take days to secure my release, I was sceptical because I read the anger in Feresu Chakanyuka’s judgement. She was angry and bitter. The case was now personal to her. This, coupled with the many threatening messages I received run up to the judgement I just knew that I was going away for a while.

We went to the High court to seek bail pending appeal. It took more than six weeks for the record to be printed and signed by the convicting magistrate Chakanyuka. I instructed my legal team to go to the High court without a printed document. It was only at that time that Chakanyuka signed the copy.

The bail hearing at the High court further confirmed my reading of the mood of the regime to punish me for fighting corruption. Justice Chikowero handed out an emotional judgement, using words like ‘foolish’ and ‘nonsense’ referring to my legal team arguments. Prof Madhuku is one of the leading constitutional law experts in the county having taught most of them at the University of Zimbabwe in one way or another. Moses Nkomo too is a fine lawyer.

The long and short of the matter is that seven months down the line I am still waiting for my appeal to be heard in the high court. I don’t have much hope though, the outcome is not based on facts, but on political decisions from those who take us as enemies of the state.

When I settled here at Harare Central Prison, the early days were as dark as they can ever be. I have been in Zimbabwean prisons before and I know the conditions. I am not new to them. Making these conditions ‘home’ for the next three years takes huge fortitude and fighting spirit. There was effort to discriminate against me as an “opposition prisoner”. I resisted that.

Prison conditions are hell. Interestingly none of the judiciary officials ever visit our prisons. They never imagine themselves in these prisons ever, as long as they work with existing regimes.

To overcome and keep going I have to draw deep from my convictions that have built over the years of fighting dictatorship and injustice. It is not easy though. You’re surrounded by angry people all over. People who never imagine professionalism at any time in their conduct of business. It’s about emotions of protecting what they want in life. It’s never about their country but about their self ego.

These months of staying in these hard hell like conditions have strengthened my resolve to love human beings. And to love my country Zimbabwe. I have seen prisoners treated worse than slaves, this has given me a strong commitment to fight to the end to change these conditions.

We are fed on relish without salt and cooking oil, the food is sub standard and not fit for human consumption. The prison has no respect for humanity.

I have seen that one’s journey to a Zimbabwean prison is filled with fellow Zimbabweans who don’t care at all about dignity of fellow citizens. In the middle of that cruel behavior it is heartening to realise that there are still some citizens with good human hearts.

One danger I have had to fight is remaining behind. The world is moving. The other day I asked my wife about Twitter and she told me that there is no more Twitter, it’s now called X. There is no way of accessing information and news from prison. There is only one obsolete tv which only receives ZTV signal but with no sound! One only gets news when you get a visitor.

To get a letter like the one I am penning takes weeks. The systems are very brutal. I have tried to receive copies of newspapers but they are censored to a point there is nothing to read left.

The prison has hugely increased my reading habit. To get the books though is an unbelievable battle. Another time I got Abraham Lincoln. As is custom the book goes through census. Then some officer realized that the picture on the front cover of the book ‘is similar to the picture of the man on the 5 US dollar ‘ They looked for 5 dollar from countless officers until one got it. They compared and confirmed that yes it was. And the book was labeled a ‘contraband’.

In the face of all the challenges, I have learnt a number of useful life lessons. The attitude of the justice system has shown that the courts are not anything to pin your hopes on. This therefore has taught me to learn to believe more in my inner strength. To believe more in God that at the end we can keep fighting until victory is achieved.

When I walk out of this prison one day only to find the same corruption still rampant in the country I will have to fight exactly in the same way, for there is no going back. If I find the same injustice I will have to fight it more. When I see the same horrible economic conditions in the country I have no option but to speak out and call on our people to stand out. I will repeat the same message over and over, none but ourselves can free our country.

Jacob Ngarivhume
Harare Central Prison