IN THE requiem of a soft September breeze on Tuesday afternoon we made our way through a narrow winding road to the main gate of Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison on the outskirts of Harare.
The road, as narrow and winding as the people’s struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe, takes us to our waiting lawyer at the main gate. The lawyer, Alec Muchadehama, is a friend of democracy who, for the past 10 or so years, has defended party cadres arrested for an assortment of trumped-up charges.
In 2007, I was among a group of MDC-T members who Muchadehama represented when we were accused of attempting to unseat the Zanu PF government through acts of sabotage, banditry and terrorism, charges for which we were later acquitted after spending some six months in prison.
But on Tuesday, the three of us — Morgan Tsvangirai, Muchadehama and I — had our details taken at the main gate before we proceeded to see colleagues from our party currently under incarceration for simply clamouring for real change in the country of their birth. This is a road most of us in the MDC-T have travelled.
Since last week, Tsvangirai, being the good leader he is, had been insisting that he wanted to see his incarcerated chief election agent and deputy chairperson of the party, Morgan Komichi, and other party cadres arrested two years ago on trumped-up charges.
After 40 minutes of the bureaucratic drudgery associated with entering a maximum security prison, we were finally led into a room where the three prisoners we had come to see, Komichi, Last Maengahama and Simon Mapanzure, were later brought.
The fourth one, Yvonne Musarurwa, was not brought into the room because of logistical challenges. Surprisingly, they were in high spirits and appeared more concerned about us than they were about themselves and their sad predicament. Maengahama and Mapanzure, part of the Glen View 29 — now 28 — have been in prison for almost two years without trial, accused of killing a police officer.
One of them, Rebecca Mafukeni, died while in custody last month in a tragic case that showcases the monstrous consequences of the slow wheel of justice in Zimbabwe.
Always the people’s person, Tsvangirai started by hugging the three and referring to the three of them by their totems: “Makadii Samaita” to Maengahama, “Sinyoro” to Mapanzure and “Wamambo” to Morgan Komichi.
Our conversation with the prisoners, which took place under the watchful eye of four prison wardens, moved from their personal predicament to the national issue of the stolen election. Tsvangirai told us how he had spent two weeks at the same prison in 1999.
He then explained to the prisoners about the stolen election, asked about their health and their welfare and finally sought from them how he could personally assist, to which the prisoners thanked the party for assisting their families. The MDC-T president assured them that he would personally ensure that rates and rents were paid, their children sent to school and that food was available for their families.
It was an inspiring conversation and one was moved and stirred by the simplicity and the high spirits exhibited by people facing trumped-up and politicised charges.
But the most inspiring moment was yet to come. After about 40 minutes with the three, we finally bade goodbye to these brave sons of the MDC-T family — dedicated cadres who can spend years without going for trial on charges they know nothing about.
As Tsvangirai gave each one of them a hug on our way out, the three insisted they wanted to pray. It was the most inspiring moment of the entire visit.
Ordinarily, one expects visitors to pray for prisoners, but these were prisoners with a difference. They asked that they do it instead. It was Mapanzure who prayed.
He prayed for us, prayed for the party, the leadership and our president. He asked God to take charge, prayed for the people of Zimbabwe and for God to bless them and travel with them on their journey of real change and transformation.
Earlier, Komichi had told us of the wonderful way in which God operates. He repeated to us, in more graphic detail, the story of the children of Israel, especially where all seemed lost, before God intervened and enabled them to cross the Red Sea.
God would always be with us and the people’s movement, Komichi told us, while sorting out his leg irons which reflected the gravity of his alleged crime of simply discovering a ballot. Discovering stray property and taking it to the authorities is a serious crime in Zimbabwe!
We were in a far better mood when we left this prison, some of us proud of an inspiring leadership and emboldened by the odd story of inspired prisoners who pray for their visitors.
But just as the narrow and winding road will eventually take you to the gates of Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, so too will the winding road of our unarmed struggle against oppression take us to the real change and transformation that the people of Zimbabwe desire and deserve.
Luke Tamborinyoka is the spokesperson to MDC president Morgan Tasvangirai. He writes in his personal capacity.