I celebrate Mukoko’s freedom but cry for the others

2009-10-02 13:57

FREE at last! Free at last! Martin Luther King’s ­famous cry reverberated in my mind when I heard the news this week that the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe had ruled that state agents had violated the constitutional rights of Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) director Jestina Mukoko when they abducted and held her for three weeks.

Because of these violations, Mukoko was entitled to a permanent stay of prosecution.

All charges have been dropped and Mukoko has her freedom of movement back – her passport was confiscated shortly after her release on bail in February last year.

How I wished that I could have been in court to witness the scenes of wild jubilation that greeted the ruling.

In a country where there is seldom cause for celebration, Mukoko’s family, friends and fellow activists could not hold back their emotions. Mukoko herself was in tears.

When I spoke to Mukoko in Harare, a week before the Supreme Court hearing, she said she had been deeply affected by the charge that she had conspired against the state by recruiting people for military training in Botswana. She was determined to clear her name.

While we talked, I recalled our conversation when I visited her earlier in the year at the Harare Magistrates’ Court where she stood trial.

I was struck by the dilapidated state of the once-elegant building – the parquet floors were dull and dusty and the stink of the toilets followed one through the corridors, right into the courtroom. Yet the ­justice dispensed in the courtroom stank even more.

To label the performance of the state prosecutor, Florence Ziyambe, as incompetent would be too kind.
In what should be recorded as one of the most inept performances in a court of law, ­Ziyambe said the indictment could not be served because “the machine was broken”.

She did not specify which machine – the coffee machine, the printer or the photocopier. Nor did the young and inexperienced magistrate ask.

Alex Muchadehama, the defence lawyer, stood head and shoulders above the magistrate and prosecutor when he argued that his clients should not be made to suffer further because of the incompetence of the Attorney General’s office.

His request was not granted that day but she is free now.

The state failed to produce an indictment because the only evidence against the accused was obtained by torture and would not have withstood the scrutiny of a decent court.
Mukoko was among 43 civil society and MDC activists who had been abducted by state agents between October and December last year. Despite official denials, the persistence of courageous human rights lawyers resulted in tip-offs that 32 of the 43 “disappeared” activists were being held in various prisons in Harare.

These included MDC activists Collin Mutemagawu, his wife Violet Mupfuranhewe and their two-year-old son Nigel, who was also beaten on occasion and put into solitary confinement to punish his mother.

They were all charged with recruiting people to train in Botswana to commit acts of banditry, sabotage and insurgency. This was aimed at casting a slur on Botswana, the only country to have broken ranks with the Southern African Development Community by condemning the conduct of the Mugabe regime.

Mukoko’s abduction, we suspected, was aimed at hampering the work of 420 peace monitors deployed throughout the country by Zimbabwe Peace Project to monitor and document human rights abuses and breaches of peace.

During her interrogations, Mukoko was repeatedly asked: “How do your people get such accurate information?” But she refused to reveal the names of the peace monitors.

Mukoko’s ordeal has affected me profoundly. As she recounts her experience of detention, torture, being tried on trumped-up charges, and being forced to report to the police every week, I am reminded of the experiences of my mother-in-law Albertina Sisulu.

Like MaSisulu, Mukoko has been consistent, hardworking and utterly dependable – a rock within her family and within the peace-building and human rights community.

MaSisulu says time and again that she fought her struggles for future generations. It pains me deeply that Mukoko has been denied the freedoms that women like MaSisulu fought for in what is supposed to be a free country.

At least MaSisulu’s travails were greeted with outrage and her persecution by the apartheid regime was denounced by leaders throughout Africa.

In Mukoko’s case, the leaders of this continent failed to raise a moral voice against the outrage perpetrated against her and her fellow abductees.

Let us who do object always remember that while Mukoko is free, seven of the 43 people abducted by state agents ­remain unaccounted for.

The pressure on Mugabe and his lieutenants to provide answers about the fate of the disappeared must be maintained. Otherwise, we invite a continuation of impunity and abuse in that country.

Sisulu is an author and board member of the Crisis in Zimbabwe coalition

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