TRANSFORM Zimbabwe (TZ) president Jacob Ngarivhume has described Zimbabwe’s prisons as akin to the infamous Nazi concentration camps, in which approximately six miilion Jews died during WWII.
Ngarivhume spent 45 days behind bars on allegations of inciting the public to commit acts of violence that the government said could lead to the unseating of a democratically elected government. He was accused of working with the country’s enemies on a regime-change agenda.
He described the cell in which he was kept as overcrowded and unsanitary.
“About 70 prisoners were squashed in a small cell measuring approximately 50×10 metres and we spent the night next to our faeces because there were no functional ablution facilities.”
He described the food they were forced to eat next to free-flowing raw sewage as not really fit for human consumption.
“They served food right next to raw sewage and sawnothing wrong with that. I felt like I had been thrust in a Nazi concentration camp,” Ngarivhume said in an interview on Friday last week.
“It’s meant to destroy you psychologically,” he said.
Ngarivhume, with support from other opposition parties and civil society organisations, called for protests on July 31 against government corruption.
He was arrested a week before the day of the planned demonstration.
Mnangagwa’s administration made sure the protests never took place by deploying the army and police in huge numbers.
An erudite storyteller, Ngarivhume said on July 20, the day of his capture, he found himself surrounded by 12 men armed with AK47 Assault rifles and handguns as he made his way to his daily early morning prayer session at a local Pentecostal church.
He was bundled into an unmarked vehicle along with a nephew who later informed his family of the arrest.
“Of the 12, only one produced an identity document claiming to be from the ZRP Law and Order Section.”
He said he was then taken to Harare Central Police Station where he was made to sit on the floor for about an hour. They denied him access to his lawyer and confiscated his phone and everything he had on him.
“I felt a great relief when I saw Hopewell Chin’ono arriving into the cell where we were kept for two nights before being taken to Harare Central Prison,” he said.
Chin’ono is the internationally acclaimed journalis who was also caged at the same time on similar allegations. “The conditions were very rough, horrible in fact. The blankets were very dirty and lice-infested.”
After being denied bail, Ngarivhume and Chin’ono were moved to Chikurubi Maimum Security Prison, where, he said, the conditions were even more horrible.
“There, we found out we were to share a small cell with about 70 other prisoners. The cell had no toilets and for the first time in my life, I saw grown-up men relieving themselves in lunch boxes and dispose of them in the morning.,” he said with a grimace on his face as if the whole ordeal was being replayed before him.
They were locked up for up to 17 hours every day. “What was even more worrying was the prison officers seemed to think there was nothing wrong at all with that. I even offered to repair the broken sewer pipes close to where they serve food, but they said no prisoner was allowed to ever make such a suggestion.”
“We ate only porridge in the morning and sadza with beans at 3pm before we were sent back into the cells.”
He said the food was so horrible he only braved it to keep alive.
“I now know why many people don’t live long after serving prison,” he said, adding: “These are supposed to be correctional facilities, but they are instead jails. Although there are hospitals in the prison complex they are no use because there are no medicines, not even painkillers. It was a denial of basic rights,” he mourned.
Not only was he denied food and water, he was also not permitted any reading material and ended up having to smuggle books.
“I actually discovered that there was a very good system which one could use to smuggle things into prison and that was how Hopewell and I managed to lay our hands on some reading material,” he said.
The right to dignity too was lost, despite the Constitution in Section 50 guaranteeing it to even prisoners.
“Every week and on all occasions we went to court, they would strip everyone naked and make us jump in rows of 10 to see if we hadn’t smuggled something. Of course Hopewell and I refused that and there was nothing they could do.”
He described how he saw grown men dehumanised in public.
“They could even touch your private parts in the name of conducting searches. I told them it was better to shoot me dead so I die in dignity rather than in humiliation,” Ngarivhume said.
But instead of being broken, Ngarivhume claims, he came out of his 45-day incarceration much more determined to fight against corruption and injustice.
“Prison increased my resolve to fight corruption and injustice in this country and going forward, there will be more demonstrations and protests,” he charged.
Asked about the government’s claims that he was given US$300 000 by the American Embassy, he laughed out and said: “If ever I lay my hands on that sort of money, I would not be where I am now.”
For strength, he counted on his family, mainly his wife and two kids.
“My wife would visit me every single day. She never missed a visit. Even on the days she was not permitted to see me, she would come nevertheless. When we met, she would narrate how disturbed the children were and this pained me a lot. But in the end, they were the source of my strength.”