By Trudy Stevenson
FRIDAY October 15 began early for me. At midnight Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, Paurine Mpariwa, Thoko Khupe and myself as MPs plus other Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) women were
gathered under a marquee at the National Constitutional Assembly offices for an all-night prayer for God to intervene and save our leader Morgan Tsvangirai and our country.
We were praying, singing and dancing, and Pastor Magaya and Brian Kagoro had recently joined us. Magaya was preaching, reminding us that whenever we are in difficulties we should call upon God to help us.
Suddenly there was shouting and before I knew it, there were riot policemen shouting at us to get out. “Mhanyai! Mhanyai!” as I was whacked with a rubber truncheon while trying to get out of the gate.
Our thoughts were just to get away. All the women were running, they had abandoned shoes, coats, blankets, bags – and I had abandoned my car!
Some way down the road, I hesitated – should I go back and get my car? Would they arrest me or beat me up if I did? Or should I just run away, and try to come back tomorrow?
A friend saw me hesitate and said she would go back for the car herself – what a relief! In the excitement I forgot to tell her the door is very difficult to open, but eventually she managed, and a group of us drove back home to spend the rest of the night in our beds. Later Thoko called – they couldn’t find the other women! They were found later around 3 am.
The next morning we set off in good time to go to the High Court, where we had been warned Zanu PF supporters, war veterans and so on had planned to fill the courtroom and keep MDC supporters out. Sure enough, there was heavy presence of all manner of security forces and others, and getting into the court complex was extremely difficult.
Eventually some of us squeezed in and found the benches packed with people we didn’t recognise! Priscilla and I managed to sit on a side bench downstairs – and were glared at!
The atmosphere was extremely tense but almost silent. No one was chatting, at all!
Most of the diplomats and MDC officials allowed in had to go to the upstairs gallery, where it is difficult both to hear and to see what was happening. The lawyers and advocates trooped in. Eventually we heard a big commotion outside, and knew Tsvangirai’s entourage had arrived. When they entered the courtroom, I stood up so they would see us and know that friends were there – and we gave each other the Chinja salute!
They tried to sit on the front bench where they have always sat, but this time the Zanu PF types had filled it up and would not give way – so they had to sit on the side bench, with the others squeezed in at the back. Soon Tsvangirai walked around to our side and greeted us.
At more or less spot on 10 am the three knocks were heard, and Judge President Paddington Garwe came in wearing his red robes, with the two assessors. Tsvangirai stood up in the dock, and the proceedings began.
The judge began by stating the charge, that Tsvangirai had conspired with others to arrange the assassination of President Robert Mugabe and the overthrow of the government by a military coup d’etat. At about this point, there was a loud noise, becoming louder until we realised it was jets flying over! The judge had to stop reading temporarily because of the noise, and then he resumed.
This happened three times in the first 10 minutes. At the second and third times it was clearly the sound of two jets slightly apart from each other. People were studiously quiet and hardly dared look at each other, but it was obvious this was a fly-past specially arranged for the beginning of this verdict!
Whether a salute to Tsvangirai or an intimidation tactic, opinion is divided. I lean towards intimidation, but many of my colleagues believe it was a salute to Tsvangirai and the court. Justice Garwe reminded the court of the specific charges and eventually delivered the ruling.
“There is no evidence of incitement to assassinate the president or carry out a military coup,” the judge said. “The state has not been able to establish proof of treason beyond reasonable doubt. In the result, the court therefore returns a verdict of not guilty and the accused is discharged.”
People started clapping before the judge went out – then we stood up to bow as he left. Many of us squeezed towards the front to try and congratulate Tsvangirai and the legal team. I missed Tsvangirai, but caught all the lawyers. We were hugging each other with tears running down our faces.
Such an amazing vindication of all we have been working for finally came, right here in this courtroom! The journalists were thronging; we were getting onto our cellphones.
One friend said outside they were teargassing everyone they could find.
Once outside the building, the TV cameras and journalists tried to interview us, but the police and others were having none of it – even Reuben Barwe of ZTV was manhandled and shoved away as he tried to interview me!
I walked quietly over to where our legal team gave a brief interview. What a privilege to hear George Bizos reflecting on the case and on the struggle for justice and democracy throughout the world.
He made the very profound point that during the apartheid era in South Africa, people would accuse him and others of legitimising the regime by continuing to practise law and use the regime’s courts, but that as long as people request help from lawyers, it is their duty to help those people, even against seemingly impossibly repressive systems.
*Trudy Stevenson is MDC MP for Harare North.