Thursday 8 October is a day that I will remember this year with bitter memories. This is what happened on the night of October 8. I was coming from a neighbouring township with my mzukulu at a round 2015hrs, and as we were about to cross the street that joins the two townships, a speeding car suddenly stopped in front of us. An armed cop apparently dressed for peace keeping duty in Kosovo jumped off the back of the vehicle with the agility of a ninja. He approached gun in hand, and boy was I stunned.
“Get in the car now!” he barked without giving us a second to understand what was happening. I obviously tried to protest, and the enraged cop further barked: “You are the people who go about raping women and killing them.” I thought, this is becoming surreal. Maybe I’m dreaming. Is this the Zimbabwe we want? There is GNU for Gods’ sake and should we be subjected to this treatment, I mused in the privacy of my thoughts – and under the cover of the dark night that managed to camouflage my obvious rage.
We were then shoved at the back of the truck where about twenty bitter men sat huddled like those miserable illegal immigrants trying to sail through the Straits of Gibraltar. “I was picked up when I was coming from church. Look, here is my Bible.” “I was picked up right in front of my house.” “I was picked up when I was giving way to the police car.” Their grumbling went on and on, and one female cop who proved to have been particularly miffed by something that some guessed had nothing to do with carrying out her duties went into action.
She liberally lashed her sjambok above our heads in the dark and I saw grown men wince in pain. “You think because I am a woman I cannot use this sjambok on you?” she snarled. Soon we were at the Nkulumane Police Station. I told myself, we are leaving this wretched place soon as we explain we were on our way home as law abiding citizens, but then I was to learn later rather painfully that you cannot reason with an unreasonable man – or worse yet cop. Soon, were told to line up. As we were led to the holding cells, the baton stick was again recalled and each of us got pretty violent and very painful lashes on our buttocks. I actually asked one stupefied cop to add more as he had no clue what the hell he was doing and for what reason.
These cops did not bother to tell us why our rights were being violated like that. Then we were told that anyone who did not want to spend the night in the filthy cells must pay USD5! For what? Are we living in a police state and not aware of it? Wrong question! As we were pushed into the cells, a visibly – and understandably bitter guy said: “I am not paying for a crime I did not commit you can bet on that.” Then the cop said something I still recall today and wonder what the hell he was talking about: “So you think you are the Prime Minister? You will rot in there if you think we are here to play.” He spoke in Shona and appeared aggrieved by something which only some seer and someone blessed with ESP could have deciphered. I wondered like everybody else where the Prime Minister fit in here and in what context. But then it has been said the GNU has many enemies! The cop just let the sentence hang and it was up to the crowd to fill in the gaps. Spend the night in the cells we did, 20 of us.
I wondered about my two young boys back home. They were obviously waiting for their dad to tuck them in, but they were to spend the night with their young minds wondering where the old man was. Talk about feeling like an absentee dad! In the morning, we were asked if we had the money to pay a fine. Again back at the “charge office” we were subjected to more ridicule. So we were being offered our freedom, but we had to tell the cops what we had been arrested for. “You tell us, isn’t you are the one who arrested us,” I said to the cop who sat on a high bar seat literally feeling high and mighty.
“If you do not know why you were arrested then we are returning you to the cells so you can wait for the cops who arrested you to tell you why you were arrested. Or even if you still insist you did not do anything, we throw back in the cells so you can go to court and plead your case.” I instantly hated the guy. He was enjoying it, and in his own warped mind he was doing us a great favour by offering us an option to pay a fine. I wondered: is this the Zimbabwe the GNU is promising us? It certainly isn’t the Zimbabwe we want. “So you think you are the Prime Minister” those words kept ringing in my angry mind. “We cannot just accept your fine when you do not know what you are paying for,” the cop reasoned. To a cut a long story short as I was increasingly being infuriated by someone, others in the cells had already called a “Border Gezi graduate,” I said fine we were arrested for public drinking. That seemed to rile the cop.
“We are not playing here. We will throw you back in the cells until you tell us why you were arrested.” “Okay,” I said. “We were crossing the street about a hundred metres from here (meaning the police station) when we were picked up and thrown into the cells.” “Okay then. You were arrested for loitering.” Boy was I stunned! Then my nephew asked what I still think was a clincher. “So there is a curfew then?” “Huh?” the cop was baffled. What the heck is he talking about? I saw it written on the bamboozled cops face. “So there is a curfew then,” my nephew repeated. “Huh?” Turns out he did not know what a curfew is! “Asivanhu havatshavumidzwa ukuhamba ebusuku?” the young lad asked, lacing his broken Shona with Ndebele. It was only then that the cop responded, but only to expose the nature of the intellectual aptitude of these people tasked with protecting law abiding citizens. Another guy on the other side of the counter asked: “So the curfew is that no one moves around after 9PM?” “Even 8PM,” the cop replied. And we all burst out laughing despite our circumstances. So as you may imagine, we parted with USD10 and for what? I still do not know. But I did tell the cops who rained that sjambok on my buttocks: “God bless you.”
Even as I write this I have difficulty sitting as my backside is still painful. It also got me thinking about something: when you are assaulted or mugged, doctors always ask for a police report before they treat you. Now, I was sjamboked by cops, who do I get the police report from for me to get treatment? Great country ain’t it? But then this is not Europe or the States where you can sue these cops and expect to be awarded damages. After all, these are the same chaps who over the years have literally got away with murder. For me the least I can do is tell the world about it. Perhaps we are living a lie under this GNU animal. These are times we are living in when so many of us had imagined police brutality was confined to the pre-GNU years. Two weeks later I read in the Chronicle newspaper (Wednesday 14 October 2009 p.2) that the country’s Number One Cop Augustine Chihuri had urged promoted officers in the Midlands province to respect human rights. I laughed bitterly.