After twenty-one years of writing this Letter from Zimbabwe, at first every week and then every fortnight, I find the words come harder and harder as the heart grows weak at describing our decades of pain, injustice and suffering and, when writing about it, self-censorship is always uppermost. Despite freedom of speech and expression being enshrined in our 2013 Constitution, they are far from being guaranteed in the reality of our daily lives.
A fortnight ago freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, Advocate Fadzayi Mahere and lawyer Job Sikhala were arrested in connection with a tweet that falsely reported the death of a child after an assault by police. Charged with publishing or communicating falsehoods, Chin’ono and Sikhala remain in prison two weeks later while Advocate Mahere has been released on bail. All three have been arrested before, incarcerated before and continue to find the courage to stand up, speak out and expose injustice, corruption and oppression.
Publisher Trevor Ncube said that the incarceration of the three was an attack on freedom of expression by the state. “That the three have been charged under a law that was struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2014 makes the violation of their rights to free speech even more pernicious…. Muzzling those who call for state accountability is a cynical abuse of power.”
On her release on bail Advocate Mahere wrote about her experience, words that filled us with shame and sadness and made us laugh and cry; here are some extracts which so beautifully portray the real spirit of Zimbabwe that awaits:
“Courage does not mean you aren’t afraid, it means you act in spite of your fear….
“I was thrown into the all familiar lice-infested police cell with a drop toilet. The proverbial puddle of urine from last time and all the times before greeted me. Rather, it slapped my face. I was barefoot, having signed my shoes in upon entry as per the procedure. There was no sanitizer, no facility to flush the loo, no sink and tap, no toilet paper and no sanitary bin. The blankets smelt of old urine.
“The events of the previous two days had frozen my legal brain as I watched constitutional rights bludgeoned and the Supreme Law rendered a lifeless museum piece…. I resolved that the only way to make it through this ordeal was to embrace it, follow all orders including the illegal ones and then just make the most of it. “Behave with beauty and dignity at all times,” is the best advice I received that week.
“We knelt before the prison wardens whom we called “Mbuya”. We had to kneel when talking to them. That was the rule. …The concrete floor was our mattress. We had to make our beds out of old, dirty, torn, smelly blankets stamped “Parirenyatwa Hospital.
“We went round the room sharing the charges that had brought us in. Curious, I saved my story till last. Murder, murder, murder, murder, armed robbery, theft, armed robbery, lockdown, curfew, lockdown then “tweeting.” They laughed. So did I. … I made many friends because humanity is wired towards positivity. People in distress tend to make the most of tough situations.
“Every day at lock-up time, I sat at my window and watched the skyline change from blue to a beautiful golden-peachy hue. The quiet beauty of the setting sun descending below the horizon was a peaceful reminder that the whole thing would eventually end. At least I hoped. … I also remain hopeful that one day, the sun will set on injustice and repression. Until then, I will always choose courage over inaction. I will never stop imagining that Zimbabwe will one day be free.”
“Ours must always be a story of hope. Of citizens who, knowing how ruthless and repressive this regime is, chose courage over inaction.”
Advocate Fadzayi Mahere, Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and Lawyer Job Sikhala consistently show us the Zimbabwe that we can be. Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe, now in its 21st year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting, love cathy 22 January 2021. Copyright © Cathy Buckle. http://cathybuckle.co.zw/
For information on my books about Zimbabwe and my Beautiful Zimbabwe 2021 calendar please visit my website http://cathybuckle.co.zw/