The battered prison trucks pull in just before eight o’clock in the morning and unload their youthful-looking cargo at Harare’s central magistrates court.
The occupants are shackled and disorientated and they look out of place but the government of Zimbabwe says these people are enemies of the state.
They stand accused of demonstrating, looting or disturbing the peace after protests erupted over a massive hike in the fuel price last week.
An organisation providing lawyers for the accused, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, told Sky News that 650 people have been arrested and detained in the Harare area.
The police and the military have been sweeping through the city’s high-density suburbs.
Their relatives queue up just around the corner at this ageing structure, but the majority are unlikely to get a seat inside. This place was not designed for mass trials.
I spoke to one woman called Anastasia Simisi as she waited.
“My son and husband taken by riot police, they just came and grabbed them and put them in truck they never said anything,” she said.
A few minutes later, a softly-spoken woman named Joyce Sabanda stopped for a chat.
She told me her granddaughter, Cynthia, had been imprisoned.
“She is 16 years old and she was grabbed from the house, they got into the house and they beat her up and bundled her into a vehicle.”
Cynthia is one of dozens of juveniles – children – who have been arrested and detained over the past week. The courts are now trying them as adults.
We met lawyer Job Sikhala, who is representing 18 minors in court, but he admits there is not much he can do for them.
Magistrates have been ordered by the government to convict them, he said.
He added: “The rule of law has been thrown through the window. Even the way the proceedings are taking place in our courts are clearly demonstrating that the rule of law has been overthrown.
“Some of the evidence brought to this court as exhibits are not only laughable but absolutely shocking.
“We are living are under a serious dictatorship. The world thought (former ruler Robert) Mugabe was a dictator. But the current dictator is worse.”
A few days after our visit to the magistrates court, we went to see Mrs Sabanda in one of Harare’s outer suburbs and the 73-year-old took us for a tour of her home.
Soldiers had kicked in the doors and broken her furniture.
“This was the first door that they kicked open,” she said as she cleared a space for us in her compact living room.
We also met her granddaughter, Cynthia, who had been released on bail after repeatedly collapsing in prison.
Mrs Sabanda shook her head in disbelief.
She said: “It is painful, it pains me that the police can grab such a young child and beat her up in the manner that they did. They were beating her on the breasts, it hurts me.”
Cynthia said the whole experience has been terrifying.
“They just took me. I was preparing to go to school. I was scared in the prison because from Monday to Wednesday I didn’t eat anything. They didn’t give us food in there,” she said.
The one thing she was particularly worried about however, was missing school.
Cynthia said: “It has been two weeks, without going to school. People my age are going to school but I am being summoned to the court every day. Court, court, court. I am supposed to go to school.”
It has been a traumatic couple of weeks for residents of this neighbourhood and everyone here is afraid of the authorities.
The community police station, situated a short distance up the road, now resembles a military base and the rules don’t seem to apply to them.
Post published in: Featured