Zimbabweans are relying on us to speak for them when they are silenced
Pretoria - A week ago I was a speaker at a webinar on Zimbabwe organised by the South African Liaison Office, and I spoke after the spokesperson of the MDC Alliance, Fadzayi Mahere.
I was impressed by her eloquence, professionalism and commitment to human rights and the rule of law.
We were discussing the clampdown by the Zimbabwean authorities on independent journalists, activists and human rights defenders, and how many had been abducted and tortured in recent weeks and months.
The planned non-violent protests against corruption, hunger, deplorable health care and human rights abuses were scheduled for July 31.
It never occurred to me, looking at this immaculately-dressed young lawyer, that in three days she would find herself in a filthy police holding cell overnight with other women, no water, no sanitiser, only an overflowing pit latrine and a few filthy blankets.
I suppose Zimbabwe is no different from many other places in the world where the government is at war with its citizens.
Mahere saw her colleagues, Terrence and Loveridge, in the other holding cells. They had been abducted, beaten and tortured, and had bleeding head injuries. They had been blindfolded, told they were at Lake Chivero and were going to be fed to the crocodiles.
When I relayed this story to a black Zimbabwean friend living in South Africa, she said this was no different from what had happened under the regime of Ian Smith.
It is a great tragedy that 40 years after liberation, Zimbabweans are asking themselves how there is no rule of law or political freedom.
Mahere and her colleagues committed no crime. They were walking in their neighbourhood, with masks and 2m apart, carrying placards that read, “No Violence”, “Babies’ lives matter”, “End Hunger”, “Covid Kills, and so does corruption” and “Free Zimbabwe”. Each placard represented each person’s prayer or wish for Zimbabwe.
Mahere was aggrieved that in the Harare hospital where she had been born 35 years ago, seven out of eight newborn babies had died in one night the week before. The nurses and doctors were striking against their deplorable working conditions and the hospital had neither the necessary staff nor the equipment to ensure the babies were delivered safely.
As Mahere and her colleagues walked around her neighbourhood carrying their placards, plain-clothed agents followed them in an unmarked vehicle and took photos of them.
They proceeded to a shopping centre where they went into a coffee shop, only to observe the agents changing into police uniforms. The agents stormed the coffee shop with AK rifles, shouting at them that they were “inciting public violence”.
Despite the protests of their lawyers who arrived on the scene, they were dragged off to Harare central police station, interrogated and thrown into the decrepit police holding cells.
For those who wonder why Zimbabweans seldom fill the streets in their thousands to protest the injustice in their nation - this is why.
They are relying on us to speak for them when they are silenced.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media’s foreign editor.