By Robert Tapfumaneyi
#July 31 protest organiser, Jacob Ngarivhume says MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s recent visit to Harare remand prison angered authorities who ordered he and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono be transferred to Chikurubi Maximum Prison.
The two were arrested separately but on the same day – 20 July – charged with violence incitement against government.
While they were being held in remand prison, Chamisa took time to visit and land solidarity with them.
But the opposition leader’s gesture was taken harshly by authorities who ordered their immediate transfer to Chikurubi, located on the eastern outskirts of Harare.
“When Chamisa came to visit us, there was a lot of backlash. It was hell, thunder and fury.
“They started threatening and telling us they were going to take us to Chikurubi Maximum Prison as punishment.
“So they literally grabbed and bundled us onto a big prison truck and told us ‘you are going to Chikurubi as punishment because we are no longer able to contain the huge volume of visitors, lawyers and everybody who was coming at Harare Remand Prison’.
“It was psychological torture. Imagine being bundled into that truck in iron legs and shackles, you are never sure what’s gonna happen.”
Ngarivhume was speaking in an interview with NewZimbabwe.com, a day after he and Chin’ono were freed on bail.
He said while at Chikurubi, he met people who had long been forgotten by society and were serving life sentences.
These, he said, came in handy in his time of need.
The opposition Transform Zimbabwe leader said a Military Intelligence (MI) agent was deployed in their cell to monitor them and at one point lied to authorities that he (Ngarivhume) was preaching politics and inciting violence among inmates inside the cell.
He said the Chikurubi prison nightmare did not however break their spirits.
Ngarivhume found some advantages with Chikurubi even after some abusive prison officers told them the dreaded jail was going to bring pain to them.
“At Harare Remand Prison, there were no toilets, and I was eating one meal a day, food from my wife and then try to beg for a toilet at the reception. Half the time, they (officials) would refuse,” he said.
“But at Chikurubi, we had easier access to toilets and now l was eating two meals a day one, in the morning and one in the evening, which was at 2 pm and from 3 pm you must be in your blankets.
“The other advantage there, was that there were few lice as compared to Harare Remand Prison.
“And that was the time they also split me with Hopewell.”
Ngarivhume said his Chikurubi cell had half the holding capacity.
“So, we were 20 of us in that cell and we slept half a metre apart, while others were 40 to 45 at the former (Harare remand prison).
“In my cell, half the people were serving life sentences and about four were serving over 106 years, 108 and 115 years. So, we were living with convicted criminals, but again there had to take care of us.”
He added, “These are the people who looked after our food, these are prison people who had no value in society, people that the society had rejected.
“I was living with these men. It was terrible for the first time. I appreciated humanity that even if you are convicted for killing, you still deserve a second chance, you are still a human being and you can still do something good because they looked after us.
“They took charge of our food, they would arrange water for us to use in the toilet, they would arrange water for my bathing.
“It was amazing.”
The defiant #31July protest organiser said he left something for the Chikurubi prison inmates.
“One of the gifts I gave to them, I was preaching the word of God during the evening. I became a source of encouragement to them. I could see many crying, moved by the word of God,” he said.
“We asked for forgiveness, they repented.”
Going back to his earlier incarceration at Harare Remand Prison, Ngarivhume said some prison officials were kind-hearted.
“I lived in a cell where at one point, Emmerson Mnangagwa (President) lived in, where Matemadanda (war veterans deputy minister) lived in (signatures imparted in the walls),” he said.
“What encouraged us most was the solidarity we got from Zimbabweans. We could be told by the guards that people are talking about you guys, you are becoming household names, a lot is being said about you.
“So that really encouraged us during this senseless imprisonment.
“Lawyers could tell us ‘don’t take any food, do not be seen by any doctor from prison. It was just they don’t, don’t and how do you do live like that!
”This is the time we realised that our lives were at the hands of the oppressor and you could feel his power.
“At remand prison, they placed us at the D Section, so we were staying with people who were going for trial for murder, armed robbery and rape charges.
“70 % of those we were staying with were on murder, they could chat freely on how they murdered people, how they killed. Within prison walls, they don’t hide how the committed the crimes so that they get assisted.
“But again, these are the people who literally saved us, these are the young men who looked well after our buckets of food.
“They would warn us when Military Intelligence people were thrown into our cells to monitor us, at one time, four of them were deployed and the guys warned us.
“And the security of the prison would also warn us that ‘there are people that have been deployed to monitor you’ and we could put up with them. It was so scary.
“They would really try to break your spirit, but we held on hugely by our conviction and also of course your prayers.”