Zimbabwe is currently engulfed in a polarizing discussion around the arrest, disappearance and reappearance of 3 MDCA officials who were discovered near Bindura, after having been allegedly tortured, according to their own testimonies.
By Farai Maguwu
The three narrated horrific stories of abuse which included being forced to drink each other’s urine and excreta. The state security agents have launched a massive fight back claiming the three had faked their own abduction to attract donor funds from western countries. In this piece we seek to deepen analysis on what could have transpired between the arrest and their reappearance in Bindura.
On Wednesday the 13th of May the 3 participated in a flash demonstration organized by the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance in Warren Park.
The 3 were intercepted by Police at a Road block near Harare Show Grounds immediately after the demonstration
On Thursday the 14th of May the government mouthpiece, The Herald reported that the three – Harare West legislator Joana Mamombe and fellow youth leaders in the party Cecilia Chinembiri and Netsai Marova had been arrested after participating in an ‘illegal demonstration’. Reporter Victor Maphosa quoted National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirming the arrest: “I can confirm that the police arrested the three in Harare today in connection with an illegal demonstration, which occurred in Warren Park earlier in the day. They are in our custody and we are still making further investigations into the issue,” he said
On the 13th of May, one of the 3 called / texted someone saying they had been arrested and were now in Police Custody at Harare Central Police Station
Within a moment Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights dispatched lawyers to locate the trio and take instructions to represent them but Police at Harare Central denied having the trio in their custody.
On the 14th of May Zimbabwe Republic Police posted 3 tweets denying having the trio in their custody.
In the early hours of the 15th of May the trio sent a distress call from Muchapondwa shops, in Musana communal lands in Bindura South.
The physical condition of the young women reflected people who had been subjected to trauma. The frequent emotional breakdowns also points to excessive physical abuse. The State has refused to take any responsibility. A diplomatic spat has ensued between the government and the European Union. State apologists have spared no effort in declaring the alleged abduction as fake.
The major lingering question is what really happened between the arrest of the three and their reappearance in very bad shape in Musana communal lands, more than 100 km North East of Harare.
The Herald article confirming the arrest of the three remains the smoking gun pointing to State culpability. The Herald has not pulled down the story to date. The decision by the Herald to keep the story on its website despite the somersault by the State will be analysed.
WHAT HAPPENED AT HARARE CENTRAL POLICE STATION?
We argue that Zimbabwe Republic Police could have arrested the three in line with their duties to enforce the lockdown regulations. We further argue that the three were taken to Harare Central Police Station to be charged for the alleged offence. If Police had intended to abduct the three they would have bundled them to the back of a truck and taken them to their intended destination. Taking them to a Police station where they could be seen by a number of Police Officers before disappearing them would not make sense.
Another scenario is that Police were instructed to arrest the three but were not give enough instructions of what to do with them after arresting them. Thus Police acted on ‘orders from above’ and waited for further instructions on how to proceed. Confirmation by Paul Temba Nyathi that the trio had been arrested without giving details of their location also indicates he was taking orders from someone outside the Police Force. It is not possible that a trained Police Officer could have reported the arrest to Police HQ without giving details of where the suspects were being held. That would be dereliction of duty. However, whichever scenario, the matter points to some interference of the Police by some higher authorities.
We opine that a higher office ordered Zimbabwe Republic Police to hand over the trio to people outside the Police Force.
PEELING THE ONION – THE ZRP TWEETS
On the 14th of May, at 13:55 PM, Police tweeted that the 3 were ‘not in Police custody’, adding that ‘Police, therefore dismisses all social media insinuations that the MDC members were either detained or are in police custody.’ The 3 tweets by the Zimbabwe Republic Police, barely 24 hours after confirming the arrest, distancing the Police from the detention of the three sounds like a disclaimer – an act of washing its hands in public like Pilate did in the matter of Jesus Christ versus the Jewish crowd. The fact that ZRP has not pressured The Herald to pull down the story quoting Paul Nyathi confirming the arrest might point to some discord within the State over the matter. In the operations of the Zimbabwean State, the institution of the Police takes orders from ‘above’. Disobeying political orders can mean anything ranging from charges of indiscipline to undermining the authority of the President.
However the tweets by ZRP clearly reveals a departure from the norm where they go to extraordinary lengths to defend the indefensible. Police could have still helped to cover up the mess by ensuring the three ends up at a Police station somewhere, even in Musana. In that case Police would still charge them, take them to court and deny allegations of torture as has happened in the past. But the fact that the trio never returned to Police custody could mean Police did not want to have anything to do with events that took place outside its domain, which badly exposes the broken system. No attempts to cover up at all.
Alternatively, ZRP could have remained mum and allow Office of the President to handle all communication on the matter. But putting out a tweet of disclaimer and declaring it ‘the official position’ after initially admitting the trio was in police custody indicates a feeling within the Police leadership that those responsible for the abduction must take over all communications on the matter.
ENTER NICK MANGWANA, GEORGE CHARAMBA AND ZANU PF INFORMATION DEPARTMENT
On the 15th of May, the day the girls reappeared in Musana communal lands, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Mr Nick Mangwana entered the fray sensationally claiming the trio had faked an abduction whilst the ZANU PF twitter handle went a step further by accusing the European Union of having a hand in the alleged ‘fake abductions’. A short video was posted on its twitter handle featuring party Director of Information and Publicity Tafadzwa Mugwadi castigating the trio for violating government lockdown regulations and the EU for expressing serious concern about their safety and security.
On the same day Deputy Chief Secretary for Presidential Communications, George Charamba, speaking with his ubiquitous forked tongue, threw jibes at the EU Ambassador Timo Olkkonen, calling on him and other western ambassadors not to ‘act like bulldogs who bark at the moment of rats in the attic’. Echoing the ZANU PF narrative that the EU was behind the abductions Charamba said he was left wondering ‘whether these loud-mouthed ambassadors are watchers or actors in this whole fake political drama by an opposition facing an existential implosion…’ Remarks by the three sent a signal to regime apologists who went into overdrive declaring the abduction fake whilst making fun of the images and videos of Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova.
What is so clear at this stage is Police had now taken a backseat on the matter and Office of the President and ZANU PF information department had taken over. If this doesn’t tell us who was behind the abduction and torture of the three then nothing ever will.
THE HERALD STANDING BY ITS STORY
The Herald, being a mouthpiece of the government and staffed by supposed die hard regime propagandists should have pulled down the story at the first sight of the Police tweet. Alternatively the Herald could have retracted the story and claim that National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi was misquoted and proceed to apologize to him and ZRP for the mistake and the damage this might have caused to them. Because no one in the public domain has a recording of the call between Herald Reporter Victor Maphosa and Paul Nyathi, they could have been given the benefit of doubt in the court of public opinion. Nevertheless the story is still on the Herald website -https://www.herald.co.zw/mdc-a-legislator-mamombe-2-others-arrested. This means The Herald is standing by its story and is not making the slightest of efforts to cover up the crime. The Herald Story remains an indictment of the State in the disappearance and alleged torture of the three. Should the matter be heard in Court the Herald will be the Chief witness against its owner, even if it comes as a hostile witness.
WHICH OFFICE COULD HAVE GATECRASHED INTO HARARE CENTRAL POLICE STATION TO ABDUCT THE 3?
We have argued that the Police tried to do its professional job of arresting and taking suspects to the Police station to prefer charges against them. National Police Spokesperson also discharged his duties professionally when he confirmed to the media that the trio had been arrested and were in Police custody before issuing a contradictory statement declaring the three were not in their custody [anymore]. This means something beyond the authority of the Police must have taken over from the moment Police had detained the trio. Knowing that the nation had already been informed that the trio were in Police custody, ZRP then sought to advise the nation that the suspects they had detained had been take away from them and hence people must not look for answers or further updates from the Police on the case.
There is only one office that operates above the law in Zimbabwe. This is the President’s Office, also known as the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO). The CIO overrides the Police and most government departments except the military. They are not answerable to any office except the President or the responsible minister. Because they deal with the security of the President and his government, no one dares resist their orders lest they be deemed anti-establishment. Often they can take a person and dump them at a Police station or any other location without any warrant. However abducting people from Police custody is not something that can be done by an ordinary CIO. The repercussions for such a blatant abuse of power and violation of various domestic and international human rights instruments can be massive. This is a task that can only be performed by very senior CIOs who take direct orders from the highest office in the land.This points to the involvement of the President in the abduction of the 3.
TRAMPLING ON THE RULE OF LAW
If the state felt the trio had committed an offense in light of the lockdown regulations, it had an array of legal instruments at its disposal to punish them. The President has exercised his constitutional powers to declare a State of Emergency which has its own regulations that must be followed. There is the Public Order and Security Act which also deals with unauthorized gatherings. The three are only girls and there is no evidence they were resisting arrest to warrant the brutality they allege visited them during their captivity.
Despite the alleged offence committed, the Courts were the ultimate arena where the three could explain their actions – not some horror pit at some unknown location. What is the role of the Police and Judiciary then? Constitutionally Zimbabwe must exercise separation of powers. Within the justice delivery system Police are expected to detect crime, arrest suspects, charge them and hand over the matter to the courts. No person must be assaulted or abducted from Police custody.
MY 2010 EXPERIENCE AT HARARE REMAND PRISON
In June 2010 I was arrested due to my legitimate human rights work and remanded to Harare Remand Prison. My strong legal team of Tinoziva Bere, Beatrice Mtetwa and Trust Maanda worked on my safety and security 24/7 which denied would-be-torturers any chance to do so. Much work had been done before I handed myself over to the Police. By the time I handed myself to Police in the company of Tino Bere in Mutare the issue was on international spotlight already. So I went to remand prison when the President’s office was still very keen and hungry to deal with me.
Whilst at Harare Remand Prison, one Sunday morning my name was called and I went to the gate where I was met by some plain clothes man who had come to take me. There was a hive of activity and most senior prison officials were gathered at the gate. I asked where they were taking me to and they said ‘you will see when we get there’. I asked them to show me their IDs and they refused. I asked for the warrant of release but they said I was wasting their time. I refused to cooperate until the Officer in Charge was called and he ordered me to go with them. I asked him whether it was lawful for him to hand me over to unknown people without a warrant or knowledge of my legal team & family and he said there was no way he could refuse to hand me over if they wanted to go with me. I demanded that he calls my lawyer Tinoziva Bere but he asked me to leave his number with them. There was a brief silence as I sighed deeply, wondering what was about to happen to me. The man kept looking at me with menacing eyes as if they were saying ‘you will soon be ours and we are going to teach you a lesson’. At that point I complied. Walking out of remand prison in the company of fierce looking persons without the knowledge of my lawyers or family felt like being forced out of a moving plane at 38 000 ft above sea level. I felt helpless and vulnerable. The rest is history and better left for my autobiography.
A BROKEN NATION
The abduction of the trio, traumatizing as it is, is NOT the real problem. It is only a symptom of a much broader and deeper problem that has been cultivated for decades. We are likely to witness many more such cases in the near future. The fact of the matter is Zimbabwe needs a mega internal dialogue concerning its troubled past and the desired future. We also argue that both the perpetrators and their victims suffer trauma. The perpetrators are also agents of a system that takes advantage of their personal insecurities to inflict harm on others seen as a threat to the system. No normal human being can enjoy torturing another because they themselves would not want to be tortured or have their loved ones tortured. Thus the practice of torture is a symptom of a deep psycho-social crisis crying for a therapy. We have had stories of people who are given 20 bond notes by an aspiring candidate and that 20 bond note can make them so angry on behalf of that candidate to an extend they can kill or burn an entire homestead of perceived enemies / rivals of their benefactor. In our sub-conscience we now embody a deep culture of cruelty and indifference which is anathema to the culture bequeathed to us by our forefathers.
Zimbabwe is a wonderful country with massive potential to become one of the greatest countries on the continent. However something foundational is terribly wrong with our country. Both the government and the citizens are insecure and this points to a very unstable and uncertain future where economic recovery is practically IMPOSSIBLE. Citizens are terrified of their own government and government is terrified of its own citizens, hence the heavy handedness. Its a land of fear. We need to collectively establish the foundation upon which our country is to be rebuilt and this foundation can be built through honest dialogue of how we came to where we are and what needs to be done to build a shared future, a shared economy and a shared value system where we put all hands on the deck for recovery and prosperity. Yes we can do it.