False Accusations

In late 2001, the local media covered a story claiming that a war veteran, Cain Ncala had been murdered - the story was elaborate and carefully constructed. The State claimed that he had been abducted by MDC operatives, taken into the bush and strangled. He body was found in a shallow grave some 40 kilometers from Bulawayo.

National television showed pictures of two MDC activists in shackles and handcuffs showing the site of the grave to the Police. Several people were arrested in the aftermath and eventually charged with the murder and complicity with the murder. In front of a High Court Judge appointed by the regime and known to be sympathetic to the regime, the State case collapsed when the defence demonstrated that the whole case was a fabrication.

The Court dismissed the charges and all the accused were released - but only after they had been subjected to six weeks of incarceration and mistreatment. Below is the account of one of the co-accused in that case. It is his personal recollection of what he was subjected to during the 35 days he spent in Police custody and in Remand Prison.

This story is apt because this is exactly what Jestina Mukoko and others are being subjected to right now in Zimbabwe. In late 2008, the regime decided to concoct a story about the MDC training military insurgents in neighboring Botswana. The objective was to discredit the Botswana Government and strengthen a case for the declaration of a State of Emergency as a result of which the State would ban the MDC, call off the talks and the formation of a transitional government. In tandem with this elaborate hoax, they staged bombings in Police Stations and at various strategic points and, although there was no evidence, blamed elements linked to the MDC.

To support their story - distributed to SADC Heads of State by a team of Zanu PF Ministers and security officials in the form of a 27 page dossier with color photographs of young trainees in a camp in Botswana, State agents (we now know they were police with CIO and others assisting and authorized from the top) abducted at least 42 individuals and in three cases produced film of confessions that they had participated in this training after being recruited in Zimbabwe by MDC related individuals.

If you are going to construct such an elaborate plan why not hit more than one target and that is how Jestina and her colleagues came it. Their crime was to run a human rights organisation that was recording violations of basic rights in Zimbabwe. They were picked up and were to be charged for recruiting the people sent to Botswana for training. The main difficulty since the plan was hatched has been the reaction of the region to all of this. Botswana simply said to the SADC - please send a team to investigate the allegations. They did and came up with nothing. Then, the President of South Africa simply poured scorn on the story.

In order to carry out the scheme the regime had to violate its own laws - and get the Courts to collude. This they have done without compunction. In addition, to get those abducted to confess they had to torture them - Jestina has confirmed this and in addition we know that the two year old abducted with its mother was beaten in front of the mother to get her to confess.

Now Morgan Tsvangirai has further compounded their problems by demanding that those abducted be produced in Court and charged or released. South African pressure led to them being eventually produced in Court and now the State faces to unpleasant reality of going through Court proceedings in public and being further embarrassed by the disclosures that are bound to emerge.

But what is also essential is for everyone to understand just what Jestina and the others are going through and this true account of the 2001 incident and its aftermath involving another elaborate scheme to implicate the MDC in crimes against the State sets out that in graphic detail. I found it difficult to read. In fact the conditions in our Prisons and Police holding cells are much worse today than they were in 2001. Food conditions are worse and many prisoners are dieing in Prison from hunger, disease and general mistreatment.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 3rd January 2009

35 DAYS OF HELL
I am an MDC activist and a Zimbabwean Patriot who is committed to bringing about true democracy in our country.
In early November 2001, I had just returned by car from a trip to Masvingo to meet with other activists in the area in preparation for the upcoming Presidential Elections.

At 0830 hours, Monday 12th November 2001, 3 plain - clothes gentlemen arrived at the Office and asked if I could accompany them to Central Police Station to answer some questions. I asked them to produce identity and they came from the notorious Law and Order Section of the ZRP, whose specific responsibility was to use muscle in all its forms to enforce both the archaic laws of the past and those more recently introduced, in the course of the subversion of Justice. I knew at this time that, what I had psychologically prepared for, and hoped would not come to pass, had happened. I managed to quickly pass word to my assistant to urgently inform the shadow Justice Minister for whom I work, of my predicament. I knew that I would soon be focusing on mustering all the strength and discipline that I would need to face what was in wait for me. My time had finally arrived. On walking to the Central Station, I was informed that the questioning would be in regard to the murder of two members of Zanu PF.

I was taken to the top of the building and told to sit and wait and I took the opportunity to use my cell phone and managed to warn a work colleague of my predicament, knowing precisely my fate. I focused my mind on all the positives of my situation and immediately re-examined my likely timetable in terms of the legal process - can’t be held more than 48 hours without appearing in Court, High Court application etc. The cell phone was snatched from me and in about an hour’s time, a young lawyer appeared on the scene only to be physically forced from the room and told that he could see me at 1600 hours. The ‘time factor’ was already being brought into play, during which time I was treated to the sight of scrofulous disheveled plain-clothes Officers slopping over their food from the canteen. I was refused a glass of water.

Within minutes of their lunch, I was shackled by the wrist and had leg-irons fitted and was promptly moved by armed escort to a waiting Land Rover. I realised then that they would make every effort to deny me access to my lawyer and various thoughts went through my mind. I suspected that I was being taken out of Bulawayo to be hidden in an outlying Police cell, a favourite strategy of the state thugs in control of the 'law'. An amateurish attempt was made to confuse me by driving in zigzag fashion to Esigodini, 45 kilometers on the Johannesburg road.

I knew then what I faced. This station and its cells where notorious in the genocide days of Gukurahundi when over 20 000 people were murdered by the same regime that was attempting to put me out of action. I recall the stories of screams from the cells where torture regularly took place. Earlier, all my questions were refused and it was only when I was 'logged in' did I see the charge of 'KIDNAPPING AND MURDER. Stripped to my trouser and shirt, I was then moved to the cells which I could smell some 20 metres away.

Once my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I counted 12 forms prostrate in the cell which was indescribably filthy. The toilet in the corner (a hole in the concrete floor) was overflowing with a mound of excrement over a foot high with rivulets of fluid spreading across the floor as urine dissolved the solids.

There was only enough room for me to sit with my knees under my chin. Three heavily fouled floor mats were available for the 13 inmates and 10 filthy blankets stiffened with excrement and dirty bodies. There was neither toilet paper nor water and due to the inevitable runny stomach, prisoners had to use their hands when using the toilet and wipe them on the walls. Opposition party graffiti scribbled with stone and cigarette stubs were in evidence everywhere. The ceilings were polka-dotted with the blood of engorged mosquitoes, millions of which swarmed the cell continuously. It was like some unique wallpaper and the drone reminded me of old film footage of bomber squadrons in a blitz.

Lunch was served .... a dirty bowl of sadza (maize meal), The prisoners were forced to use their hands, finger nails of which were filthy for the reasons referred to earlier. I refused the food, as I knew I probably had a long stay in prison and that any food poisoning would deem me defenseless in terms of contending with my situation and my captors. My fellow inmates, who were petty criminals from the local tribal areas, greeted me warmly and treated me with great respect and compassion, despite their lowly status. Once they knew that I was MDC, the spirits of the group rose, as they were all supporters of the opposition. The cell - wall graffiti testified to this. Supper consisted of the same meal and again I declined, taking only water from a sink, in an area adjoining the cells. It was eventually time to bed down for the evening and an elderly tribesman offered to share his blanket with me. The only floor space available was that alongside the seepage of the 'toilet'.

I had no choice but to eventually lie down on this filthy floor and accepted the shared blanket gratefully. The mosquitoes were so bad that the prisoners tried to cover their bodies as best as they could. When I tried this, the stench of the blanket was simply too much, but this was a choice between that kind of smell and that which emanated from the oozing mass in the corner. I eventually covered my face with my shirt and somehow slept through to the morning. When the first officer visited, I appealed to him for more blankets and floor mats and indicated that I had money, which I understood that I could use to buy in additional food and cigarettes for my colleagues and me.

A decision could not be made and was referred to the Officer - In - Charge. Needless to say, he did not consent or give any decision. Eventually, all the others were sent to Court and I was left on my own. Lunchtime passed and no food was forthcoming, despite my shouts in the direction of Officers coming and going from the offices some 20 metres away. They would pause, listen, turn and move on. It was my intention to insist that I be able to phone my lawyer as was my legal right and endeavor to buy some food. At this stage, I would have been happy to be fed sadza if other dirty hands were not in evidence at mealtime. I was completely ignored throughout the day and in the early evening (suppertime) I began to realise that I was to be abandoned, at least for the time being. At all times, I remained positive albeit in a disciplined sense and knew that somehow, Justice would be done and that someone would find me, before my captors realised that they would be able to deal with me in the usual manner. It is a matter of fact that torture and brutality had become the order of the day. Eventually I managed to attract the attention of a cleaner as I was tall enough to peer out of a top window into a Courtyard, where he was working.

He was obviously nervous but realised my predicament. At this stage, I was now thirsty and although empty, was not hungry, as the stench was enough to put one off one’s food. I thought at the time that there is a reason for everything and a good reason at that - filthy stench, no hunger pains. It was now some 48 hours since the last time I had a proper meal other than a very light breakfast at 0630 hours on Monday morning. I continued to try and attract the attention of passing Officers, and they all ignored me.

Eventually, the cleaner 'worked his way' towards me so that he was not noticed and whispered 'your friends are here. Two white men and a black man'. I had heard a car draw up to the station earlier. My spirits rose. Earlier that morning, a young man who had been detained for 5 days without trial had picked a piece of cement plaster with his finger nail from the wall and used it to scratch my office telephone number on his shin bone under his trousers. Had he been remanded out of custody he would have phoned for help. Little did I know it, but the area was staked out by local MDC activists monitoring and recording all activity and vehicles that came and left the station. An hour and half passed. I heard nothing. For the first time my spirits dropped. A car drove away and I did not know who the occupants might have been.

After half an hour, and various further appeals to Police Officers, I heard a jingle of keys and an Officer handcuffed me and took me through to the Charge Office, where I found my lawyer seated. My wife had prepared a meat and salad roll and a fruit juice and only after my lawyer pleaded, was I allowed to eat. At this stage, there was still no Warrant for my Arrest and I was illegally detained. My wife sat in the next office but was refused access to me. The lawyer switched on his Dictaphone and asked whether I was ill treated or physically harmed in any way. He was able to reassure me that a High Court sitting had been sought to force the Police to confirm my whereabouts and that they would be reminded that I was already becoming overdue for court appearance in terms of the regulations.

It was obvious that the Senior Officer was hostile and had a political motive. I was then moved back to my cell and later on joined by three other petty criminals. This time we were able to share the blankets available and position ourselves in the furthest point away from the cesspit in the corner. Again, sleep was difficult due to mosquitoes, but we endured. Next morning, no breakfast appeared and soon I was led to the Charge Office dressed and greeted by Officer Ngwenya from Law and Order Bulawayo, who said we were on our way. Again, auxiliary police armed with AK47’s squeezed in the Land Rover with me and I was taken to Central Police Station, Bulawayo. Again, no food or drink was made available and I was delighted when a Senior Advocate managed to speak to me although Officers refused to move out of earshot though were continually asked to do so by the Legal Counsel. He did his best to prepare me for Court and it was made abundantly clear that he had overstayed his welcome.

When I arrived at the Magistrates Court, it was my first introduction to two of the co-accused and we then proceeded to the dock, remanded in custody and sent to cells below the Tredgold Building. These had not been swept or cleaned, seemingly for years - broken toilets, no light bulbs and a bare concrete floor.

We were offered no lunch, or anything to drink and eventually placed in leg-irons and handcuffs, herded into a vehicle and driven to Khami Maximum Security Prison.

On arrival there, we were documented and issued soiled prison clothing consisting of khaki shorts and shirt. Finally, shackled, we were moved to our respective cells, which were essentially concrete boxes, 4 metres x 1 ˝ metres x 3 metres high. We were then stripped naked, as was the practice for solitary confinement. The cell was furnished with a plastic dog bowl as a toilet and 3, now familiar filthy blankets on a concrete floor.

The 'bush telegraph' as we call it, had obviously been operating and somehow the prisoners knew that MDC activists were arriving and the whole block of 3 floors of cells erupted into MDC Political Slogans and Chants. Eventually, other prisoners on their way to exercise, passed scraps of toilet paper, small pieces of soap and even a tooth brush and ballpoint pen through the brass peep hole. The daily routine consisted of a wake-up bell at approximately 0600 hours (we had no idea of time nor date as all contact with the outside world was virtually denied) and then we were issued with a cup of sweet tea and a piece of bread covered with margarine.

We were allowed to empty our dog bowls into one of six broken non-flushable toilets for 120 inmates and return to cells. Some time before midday, we were allowed out into a courtyard for one hour’s exercise and approximately ˝ hour in mid-afternoon. At the discretion of the Guard, MDC inmates were usually separated and sent to cells considerably earlier than the convicted criminals. At any time between 1120 and 1330 we were issued 'lunch' which consisted of a portion of rice, a third of an inch deep and four inches across, which was soiled with brown filth from plates stacked above. There were no cleaning materials and the risk of dysentery was high. A handful of bitter cabbage was dished out as well and a cup of sweet tea. Anywhere between 1430 and 1530 we had our supper, which was made up of the same size portions but with red beans, substituting cabbage. From that time through to approximately 0700 hours the next morning, there was no access to food and drink.

It was evident from the facilities and information from long-serving prisoners that excellent facilities once existed even for the Maximum Security section. The Medical Officer’s, Office and Store Room was virtually empty of all drugs, which had to account for 1400 prisoners. One draw of drugs was all that remained and empty shelves extended the length, breadth and height of a room 6 metres x 6 metres. The libraries were all completely empty and prisoners had no access to reading material. In the adjoining A Block, 1200 prisoners shared the same space as the 120 in our solitary confinement block.

Records show of the total number of approximately 470 at any one time being on remand. Some of these have been in this situation since 1995. There were reports of beatings and recriminations and the death rate from AIDS Related TB and Pneumonia and Dysentery and general ailments was very high. In A Block, there was so little room, that at night time, prisoners were forced to sleep in shifts and those lucky enough for floor space had to sleep on their sides, stacked like sardines all facing in one direction. On the hour, when sore shoulders and hips could no longer withstand the discomfort of the concrete floor, everyone stood and turned to lie on the other side.

At nighttime, we often heard prisoners screaming from nightmares. It was chilling experience. Somehow, despite being locked in a concrete block for 22 ˝ hours per day, with no reading or writing material, we still considered ourselves lucky. As remand prisoners, we were virtually denied every privilege due to us, such as weekly visits from wives, additional food, and reading and writing material. After much protestation, I personally managed to eventually receive letters and some books but this was towards the end of my internment.

We were allowed two letters to be posted in a month. None of mine reached their destinations. This was commonly understood by the prisoners who, through this total lack of contact with friends and relatives, were effectively denied legal representation. The tragedy of remand prisoners appearing in Court with no one present to pay their bail was almost sometimes too hard to bear. On each remand hearing we were shipped like cattle, handcuffed with leg-irons to Bulawayo. Due to lack of transport any form of vehicle was used and at one time, in a fully enclosed metal truck, panic broke out, as we had been left in the hot sun for nearly an hour waiting for the gun-toting auxiliaries who had to be present because MDC prisoners were on board.

Fortunately, we were able to calm ourselves down and it was not long before the escort arrived and we began to breathe freely again. In my own situation, I witnessed the appalling treatment of my fellow prisoners, both at the magistrates Court, where the cells were totally insufficient to cater for the masses of wretched prisoners who were fed from a bag of poorly cooked sadza with no eating instruments available. The filth and flies simply meant that there were more victims of a variety of ailments, related to these conditions.

At the High Court, where I was imprisoned for approximately one week during my bail application, the cells were appalling. No lighting, no blankets or floor mats and a broken toilet, choked and foul. The graffiti on the walls was written in the medium of prisons ... excrement. A mere few feet above us, judges reclined in wooden paneled Court Rooms, completely unaware of the plight of those that stood in the stands before them. My own experience was that Prison Officers refused offers of fruit juice from my own lawyer and counsel and at times we would go for as long as 8 hours with anything to eat and drink.

If we were lucky, before leaving prison to travel to Court, we were able to shovel dried sadza and beans into a dirty bag and carry that with us, to be shared in the middle of the day. On arriving back in the evening at prison after the day in Court, it was always too late for our 'supper', which was scheduled at no later than 1530 hours. On the one occasion, we were lucky, as plastic plates of food had been left in the sun in the Courtyard for us by some caring fellow prisoner. However, the food was blackened by blow flies, the species which is renowned for its attraction to rotting fish and faeces.

My wife attempted day after day to visit me and spent hours at the external boom gate waiting for permission to enter, which was her and my right (once per week for 10 minutes). Of the 35 days in detention, she was able to visit me twice at Khami Maximum as it was the habit of Senior Officers, who were often politically appointed to deliberately delay the process of visitors accessing their relatives. On the one occasion she spoke with me for 3 minutes and the second for 7 minutes.

When finally, my lawyer succeeded in a High Court application, ordering the prison authorities to grant me my remand prisoner rights, I was present when he served the order on the Officer Commanding and he gesticulated violently several times and said '..... will get nothing. Nothing !! No toothbrush, no food, no writing paper, no books, Nothing !!'

My lawyer had numerously, on occasions brought letters from my doctor explaining the digestive problems from which I suffered and still special food was denied. I suffer from a displaced spine and only after a good number of attempts, was I finally allowed to wear a back brace. This is just an indication of the deliberate political motive in dealing with what were effectively political prisoners. Through my lawyer, and the help of friends, I was able to arrange for a football to be delivered to the prison by my lawyer, but in all four attempts, the prison authorities refused the offer. Football is the only activity permitted and their ball had long exceeded its usable life.

Finally, after winning my release and after being re-detained after 17 hours of freedom, due to a technicality, I won my appeal in the country’s Supreme Court and joined my family, 8 kgs the lighter. Subsequently, after other vague chargers were laid against me, I finally was absolved of my crime although there is still no acquittal as such. This allows the authorities to find new evidence to re-detain me. It is on this basis that some of my colleagues are still incarcerated and others due to stand trial in November. This whole episode has been counter productive for the authorities as my resolve has strengthened, my appreciation for my compatriot and colleagues has grown tremendously, and my faith in the future of my country is stronger than ever.

(In the subsequent Court hearing all charges were dropped against all the accused. The Judge found that the Police 'diary' of events had been fabricated and it was found that a policeman had actually been protecting the site of the dead body for 24 hours before 'discovery'.)