Tuesday, 9 June 2020

BITI : MY ARREST

By Tendai Biti
My mission last Friday was to gain access to our own building. Here’s what happened.

At first, the police were polite and civil. Then our group began singing a popular liberation song. Without warning, we were arrested, bundled into a police truck and ferried to Harare Central Police Station. No restraint was exercised. The police were particularly rough with my colleagues David Chimhini, a 70-year old senator, and Lovemore Chinoputsa, who kept demanding to know why we were being arrested.


At Harare Central Police Station, we saw the grisly intestines of state failure under ZANU-PF‘s 40 years of misrule. We were placed in a tiny room, replete with a broken ceiling and chairs, an old Remington typewriter fit for a museum, and tattered police uniforms hanging from the door. It was like a scene from a bad Western.

We waited hours before Superintendent Majongosi arrived to record our details. We stayed several more hours during which no food was offered despite Senator Chimiinhi explaining that he is diabetic and suffers from hypertension. When our lawyers arrived, they insisted that we be released. The police kept saying the matter was not in their hands and that they were consulting, which we took as a euphemism that they were seeking directives from the president’s office.

Around 8 o’clock, we were transferred. In our new holding room, other prisoners were present, including policeman Shungudzemoyo Kache, who had been charged with sedition for allegedly calling Mnangangwa “a used condom”. MDC-Alliance activist Womberai Nhende lay on the dilapidated floor with huge gashes on his leg from being assaulted by the police. He was shivering and struggling to breathe but they did not care. No medical attention was offered until our lawyers insisted he be taken to a hospital.

Later that evening, charges were formally laid against us. We were accused of having committed a criminal nuisance by disturbing the peace and singing a song on Nelson Mandela Avenue. Although such a petty crime is usually resolved by paying a fine, the police proceeded to take our fingerprints. Without the necessary basic equipment, they poured ink on a kitchen sponge. We were squeezed into two little offices by an army of police detectives who behaved as if we had just bombed the twin towers.

The process was long, tortuous and ran into the night. A decision was then taken to detain us until the next morning. We were bundled downstairs where we found ourselves in a room with hundreds of other prisoners. Most had been arrested for not wearing masks and hadn’t been able to pay the fines. Yet to heap irony on the ridiculous, there was no social distancing, temperature checks or sanitisers provided then or at any point that day.

Later, we were taken to the actual cells and forced to surrender our belongings. We were not provided blankets or mats on which to sleep. The toilets were stuffed with torn copies of The Herald, the state-owned newspaper, for which there is no better use. There was no water and we were forced to walk in filth without shoes.

In the morning, my poor mother and brother were allowed in. It pained me to see my mother had been crying all night and had hardly slept. Around 10am, we were taken to Harare Magistrate Court where hundreds of our supporters were outnumbered by riot police and soldiers. Our lawyers had been waiting, having been told the previous night that our hearings would begin at 8:30am. We waited another hour or so before we were told that there was no senior prosecutor present to handle our case, notwithstanding the minor nature of the charge. Without explanation, we were driven back to Harare Central Prison. It was farcical and surreal like a poorly scripted Mr Bean film without the comedy.

Back at the prison, a very apologetic policeman told us they’d been instructed to add more serious charges against us. We were presented with new statements which we refused to sign. Well into the afternoon, we were then taken back to court. Through our lawyers we made complaints against the manner of our arrest, the delays, and the unhealthy conditions we were exposed to. The magistrate ordered an inquiry. We were granted bail of a thousand dollars each.

We were so grateful when bail was posted and the six of us left prison with nothing but our freedom. We were dirty, hungry, and had been physically and mentally tortured, but we were relieved. Because despite our terrible experience, we were the lucky ones. Many have died. Many have been tortured. And many are fearful they will become victims of this dysfunctional, anti-democratic state.

My appeal to the world is to acknowledge our experience and that of so many in Zimbabwe, and to recognise that the lives of black Zimbabweans matter. africanarguments.com

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