Sunday, 23 February 2020

MY VALENTINE NIGHTMARE


To get an appreciation of 29-year-old Anele’s torment, one must start from the beginning of her tragic story.

Her recollection begins on February 17, 2018 at a house she and her husband rented in Pumula, Bulawayo.

She vividly remembers that on that fateful Saturday afternoon they had invited family friends for belated Valentine’s Day festivities, which included drinking and braaing. 

Her mind captured every bit of it as if part of her knew that she would no longer be able to enjoy her husband’s embrace and romance for long. Anele and her husband were a typical married couple.

He worked the regular 9-5 job, while she took care of their three-year-old son. During weekends, he often enjoyed downing the “wise waters”, but this did not affect their union’s bliss in any way.
  
The couple, who were married in 2015, would infrequently argue, but their verbal spats would often be innocuous.

It, however, changed two weeks after the Valentine’s Day get-together when some family friends visited on a Saturday for a few drinks with her husband.

Later, the merry team of imbibers decided to take their bingeing to a local pub.

Around midnight, Anele, who refused to share her last name with The Sunday Mail, was awoken by loud knocks on the door.

“I think he knocked for a long time because when I opened the door he started beating me up. I was shocked because he had never laid a hand on me before,” she said.

“I tried to ask why he was beating me but he kept hitting me with fists and open palms. I ran to the kitchen and I grabbed a knife to scare him off, but I accidentally stabbed him on the side. He staggered and collapsed. I was so scared that I called out to our neighbours.”

The scale of the tragedy overwhelmed her and she lost consciousness, only to wake up to ambulance sirens, hovering police officers and a wailing mother-in-law.

The neighbours had called the ambulance but it arrived too late. They then called Anele’s mother-in-law and the police.

It all seemed surreal as she tried to process the fact that she had ended the life of her “S’thandwa”, as she used to call him.

Anele was handcuffed and sent to Mlondolozi Female Prison, which was to become her new home awaiting trial.

She was subsequently condemned to spend a quarter of a century behind bars. It has been roughly two years since her world came crashing down on her. 

The fact that she has served only two of her lengthy 25-year sentence pales in comparison to the guilt and torment that haunts her every night. Her mind keeps replaying and trying to make sense of all the events that took place from that last Valentine’s celebration to the day she took the life of the love of her life.

She still has many unanswered questions. What had caused her husband’s sudden inexplicable violent behaviour? Had he taken drugs?

She says her State-appointed lawyer failed to convince the High Court that a man who had no history of violence suddenly became threatening.

Anele was recently transferred to Chikurubi Female Prison. Here, she was met with an annual tradition — Valentine’s music and dance celebrations — that many inmates look forward to every year. 

But for Anele, the mere mention of Valentine’s Day is traumatic for her. She has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We used to celebrate this day with my husband. Up to now I still cannot understand what happened. I cannot accept it,” she said on the sidelines of Valentine’s Day celebrations held at Chikurubi Female Prison recently.

Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services public relations officer Superintendent Meya Khanyezi said such events are meant to be therapeutic for inmates.

“We have noticed there is a big gap between female inmates and society. So we are trying to do a lot of initiatives to involve the society. There is a lot of stigma.

“When a woman commits a crime, society, the husband and in-laws all abandon her. We now work with several organisations to host events such as these. Music and dance is therapeutic to inmates,” she said. 

The celebrations are usually organised by a local voluntary organisation, Heart of a Woman Trust. Ms Verna Zisengwe, the founder, said the initiative was meant to reassure inmates that society still loves them.

“We held a Zumba fitness fundraiser to mobilise funds to give them a Valentine’s Day treat. We try to help whenever we can to make their lives pleasant during incarceration. This was just our gesture to show some love to them this Valentine’s,” she said.

For inmates such as Anele, who are annually reminded that love brought them tragedy, it seems it would really take some effort to lift the overbearing guilt that still affects them. Sunday Mail

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