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Zanu PF-type prison horror
July 11, 2012
architect of Johannesburg's 1896 Old Fort Prison would have
been delighted at how Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's Zanu
PF treats political activists. Ironically, in 2005, Zimbabwe's
prisons were condemned even by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku
as "degrading, inhumane and unfit" for habitation. Our
prison population is over 40 000, with a substantial number being
incarcerated only because they are Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC) activists. Reports are that "extreme hunger, inhumane
squalid conditions, exposure to a variety of diseases and stripping
people of their dignity are standard practices in Zimbabwe's
jails, resulting in shameful misery hidden away from the public
gaze behind high walls and razor wire."
Such was the
feeling of ire and shock that overwhelmed me on my recent visit
to South Africa's Old Fort Prison now Constitution Hill. Tucked
on a rugged piece of land bound by Kotze, Joubert, Sam Hancock and
Hospital streets West of Johannesburg CBD, now the Apartheid Museum
Constitutional Court is a crude reminder of the extent to which
autocratic lunacy inflicts pain on its citizens. Luckily for South
Africans, Prison Number Four that once "housed" anti-apartheid
activists Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, Bram Fischer,
Albert Luthuli, Robert Sobukwe, Winnie Mandela, Albertina Sisulu,
Fatima Meer and the 1976 "Soweto Students" - is now
only a tourist attraction. As I listened to the harrowing tales
of "Tausa" naked dances, freezing water sprayed in solitary
confinement cells, gangster skirmishes and inmates fed with "rice
water", memories of fetid Zanu PF prisons inundated my mind.
The price we pay for challenging Zanu PF hegemony can only equal
the abuse that revolutionaries suffered in Kruger's apartheid-era
I took comfort in how South Africans have succeeded in "packaging"
their violent history for the benefit of current and future generations.
No doubt there may be vestiges of racism hounding that country,
but it's the high level of political tolerance that Zanu PF
needs to "copy and paste" urgently. The tour guide says
of this place: "Nowhere can the story of South Africa's
turbulent past and its extraordinary transition to democracy be
told as it is at Constitution Hill."
When Zanu PF
narrates the history of our liberation, anti-racism stalwarts Reverend
Ndabaningi Sithole and Joshua Nkomo are deliberately relegated to
backwaters. President Mugabe and his cronies perceive emancipation
only through the distorted Zanu PF prism. Those like us who mourn
the dearth of real freedom in Zimbabwe's democracy calculus
are dismissed as "agents of imperialism". Our highly
compromised justice system extends this fallacy by subjecting political
prisoners to horrific brutality comparable only to what Number Four
inmates suffered in Kruger's detention cells.
flaunted by our prison system in resisting penitentiary reform can
only point to one thing -black- on-black apartheid.
Judge Rita Makarau once "decried overcrowding, poor diet and
the high prevalence of disease, and pestilence in the country's
Lawyers for Human Rights and Woman
of Zimbabwe Arise have routinely implored government to desist
from incarcerating freedom activists. I would feel irritated and
insulted, barred from enjoying what Joshua Nkomo fought for - freedom
- by a motley crew of self-righteous, egocentric zealots!
Association for Crime Rehabilitation Organisation has justifiably
pointed accusatory fingers at Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa,
Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and Attorney-General
Johannes Tomana for prisoner abuse.
as agents of democratic change, is to rid Zimbabwe of this totalitarian
Zanu PF scourge.
Zimbabwe will be free of arbitrary arrests, and then MDC shall convert
Matapi, Whawha, Chikurubi, Khami, Harare, Mutare and Bulawayo prisons
into Constitutional Hill-type monuments of freedom.
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