By Lance Guma
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HARARE – Jestina Mukoko, a prominent television presenter turned human rights activist who went missing for 21 days after being abducted by state security agents has spoken out over the similar abduction of fellow journalist turned activist Itai Dzamara who has now been missing for 23 days.
While Dzamara was abducted from a barbershop in Glen View, Harare, Mukoko was abducted around 5am from her Norton home (December 2008) by six men and a woman who did not identify themselves. The State Security Minister at the time, Didymus Mutasa, eventually admitted CIO agents were responsible.
In her testimony Mukoko said they forced her into a Mazda Familia vehicle and ordered her to lie low on the seat of the car. “Immediately a woolen jersey was put across my face, covering my eyes, nose and mouth (and) as a result I had problems breathing and almost suffocated,” Mukoko said.
The men who abducted Dzamara accosted him in broad daylight, identified themselves as police, accused him of stealing a cow before they grabbed him and bundled him into a waiting car. Friends and family are now hoping Dzamara will soon be delivered to court like what happened to Mukoko.
Without warning Mukoko, after being kept incommunicado for 21 days, was eventually brought to court on Christmas Eve, alongside other detainees who had been abducted and held for 76 days. The detainees included a 72-year-old man and a two-year-old boy, all facing trumped up banditry charges.
“It was the worst 21 days of my life and I would not wish the experience on anyone. I was not sure if I was going to be released alive because several times I had been threatened with death and told I could be buried around the house where they kept me,” Mukoko told Nehanda Radio in an interview this week.
“My worst fears were when I would be told that they were taking me for a ride. Once I was driven to an unknown place and it took hours to get to the place. There was shuffling in the vehicle but I remained in the car and after a while we were driving again and after a while we got back to the detention centre.
“Then several times I was driven to another place where interrogation would take place. All the time they took me on the drives I would be blind folded and I always feared the worst,” Mukoko told Nehanda Radio.
Mukoko said most people did not understand what families go through in cases such as the abduction of Itai Dzamara. “With each day that increases on Itai’s disappearance I am getting so anxious and very afraid,” she said.
Mukoko knows first hand how brutal the regime can be. In her 2008 ordeal she was taken to a torture base and put in solitary confinement for 19 days while they tried to force her to admit recruiting youths for military training in Botswana to dislodge President Robert Mugabe from power.
“Firstly I was assaulted underneath my feet with a rubber-like object which was at least one metre long and flexible, while seated on the floor. Later I was told to raise my feet onto a table and the other people in the room started to assault me underneath my feet. This assault lasted for at least five to six minutes. They took a break and then continued again with the beatings,” she said in her testimony.
The case against Mukoko eventually collapsed and the charges were dropped. In the end she was abducted, tortured and kept in detention for nothing. Many in Zimbabwe are hoping at the very least that Itai Dzamara will be found and brought to court, where he will have the chance to defend himself properly