By Blessed Mhlanga
Pain was scribbled all over his face as he narrated his ordeal in prison, which lasted for 10 years, served for a crime that he did not commit.
MDC Alliance activist Tungamirai Madzokere finally gathered courage and recounted how his former wife, whom he loved dearly, deserted him while he was incarcerated at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare after believing the narrative that he was a cop killer as claimed by the State.
In 2011, Madzokere and Last Maengahama were arrested in Glen View, Harare and charged with killing a police officer, Inspector Petros Mutedza.
After spending 10 years in jail, the Supreme Court last week quashed the sentence and set them free.
“I don’t believe in vengeance, I forgive the State and those who have worked with it to keep me in jail for a crime I did not commit. I walked into prison a married man, but walked out a bachelor who is in pain. I will sue them so that this (wrongful incarceration) ends with me,” Madzokere said.
The interview was difficult as he appeared to be absent-minded at times or in deep thought. Several times, he struggled to control his emotions.
Apart from having been ditched by his wife, he said he found his house emptied of all furnishing, his children were all gone and there was no one to welcome him.
“I have been struggling to tell anyone — even my friends don’t know about my problems. My relatives never disclosed this to me while I was in prison because they feared for my health. As you can see, I am not feeling well,” he said.
Well-wishers have begun extending donations to the pair to enable them to start their lives anew, but Madzokere said it was difficult as one could not easily replace one’s lost family.
Maengahama, who shared prison cells with Madzokere said their stay at the high security prison was difficult as they were treated like condemned prisoners on death row.
However, he said he remained hopeful and was comforted by prisoners on death row who told him to be strong.
He told NewsDay harrowing stories of how he watched some of fellow inmates die, while others lost their minds due to the harsh conditions in prisons.
“It was a painful experience, especially to hear that the person you were talking to has died, or has been taken to hospital because they just lost their mind. It was traumatising. As a man of faith, I was the one who would preside over the funerals most of the time. Later, this weighed heavily on me,” he said.
“The deaths were due to the poor health system, poor diet and harsh conditions which any person can never adapt to.
“When you enter the prison, you are confronted by shock and disbelief. You have to move out of that shock to acceptance because if you don’t, you will die or lose your mind,” Maengahama said.
Since the two were political prisoners, they said they were kept in very harsh conditions.
While they were studying while in prison, they said authorities at some point tried to censor their academic work.
Other difficulties they encountered included having their learning material withheld by Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) guards who would take months to check it under the guise that they were looking for offensive stuff.
“You are doing a degree yet your books are being withheld by a Form Two prison guard who comes and orders you to remove some sections of your assignment. This is academic work that they wanted to censor. They did it to Madzokere once and he refused to change his assignment,” Maengahama said.
They said they lived in overcrowded conditions in jail, where more than 50 inmates were crammed in a small cell.
They said it was miraculous that they maintained sanity in such conditions for 10 years.
“My sleeping space was 30cm by 30cm. I could not turn to the other side, or try to be comfortable while sleeping. This was my life for the 10 years I spent in prison,” Maengahama said.
Madzokere added that food, clothing and blankets were all unfit for human beings.
“Jail is a place designed to make you a bitter and worse-off person. They fail to provide food or clothing. In prison, there is no balanced diet, you are given boiled cabbage and sadza almost everyday, followed by boiled beans. They also make sure they strip you of your dignity, it’s a sad state o f affairs,” Madzokere said.
The two were denied visitors, including visits by late MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his successor Nelson Chamisa.
“We were not treated like ordinary prisoners; security was tight and we lived under unhealthy conditions worse than those of dogs. Even as we attended court, we were kept in cells with prisoners on the death row, our visitors were barred from seeing us, it was horror and pain,” Madzokere said.
They said during the first days of their imprisonment they did count the days and hours as they went by. But they later stopped doing so as hope faded. They said only prayer kept them
“I was kept alive and sane by turning to God. I had the opportunity to reflect on my life during my time, going back to Grade One, and looking at what I did well and what I could have done better. I came out of prison a better man,” said Maengahama while appearing to be preoccupied.
He said many had come out worse because of the harsh conditions they were subjected to.
“When you walk into prison, the first loss is normally your wife, many leave their husbands and this drives many crazy. And when you walk out, society has already condemned you, all support structures are gone. You find yourself wanting to go back, because in prison there is love among inmates, we used to stand together,” Maengahama said.
After their release, society, however, has embraced them and views them as heroes. A welcome bash was even held in their honour.
MDC Alliance vice-chairman Job Sikhala and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono have become major pillars of support for them after coming out of prison.
They have teamed up with diasporans to set up a GoFundMe account with the aim of raising US$50 000 to give the two a fresh start in life.
Their lives will never be the same again considering what they went through in the past 10 years. They said it could never be undone, but they are still hopeful and determined to change their future and that of all Zimbabweans.
Indeed, theirs was a tale of horror, which has ended in tears of joy. News Day