ZIM IN RUINS
Zimbabwean activist Makomborero Haruzivishe has been behind bars for almost a year without trial
Jailed Zimbabwean activist Makomborero Haruzivishe will appear in court on Friday for a bail hearing. He has been in prison for 11 months. His ‘crime’? Speaking out and organising peaceful protests against the Zanu-PF government.
Many Zimbabweans had a bleak “festive” season. With inflation, public transport woes and high unemployment, Christmas Day was, for many, just another day.
Regardless of religious orientation, Christmas holidays for many of us have always been a time to rejoice, celebrate and party. I remember going to Edgars with my mother and father as a child to choose Christmas clothes. We chose Edgars because they had a credit facility and my parents could pay for their purchases in instalments.
This past Christmas, I am sure many children did not get any Christmas clothes. I doubt many had a Christmas lunch worth writing home about either.
In Zimbabwe, Christmas is also the time many of us go home to our rural areas. That is where we congregate with extended family to celebrate and enter the new year together. Many Zimbabweans lamented that this time around, they failed to go home.
There was a lot of sadness.
But while many of us were worrying about Christmas clothes, Christmas dinner, vacations and other “trivia”, my friend and comrade Makomborero Haruzivishe was wondering if he was going to spend Christmas Day in prison. As it turned out, he did.
For the past 11 months, Haruzivishe has been unjustly incarcerated by the Zanu-PF government. His crime: fighting against repression and state capture.
Haruzivishe is a 29-year-old Zimbabwean political activist who has been at the forefront of defending human rights in his country. He has been a thorn in Zanu-PF’s flesh ever since his days as a student activist at the University of Zimbabwe. At that time, he confronted the then Mugabe regime on its violations of human rights.
Mugabe’s government rewarded him by expelling him from university.
He did not stop fighting. He continued to confront the government as a youth leader in the main opposition MDCA. Haruzivishe successfully organised and led dozens of peaceful demonstrations against Zanu-PF misrule and misgovernance. This led to him being considered an “enemy of the state” in the so-called “new dispensation” of the Emmerson Mnangagwa administration.
This is Haruzivishe’s 38th stint in prison in the past decade.
In previous arrests, he would spend anything from a few nights behind bars to a few weeks, and at times a few months. This is the longest the government has kept him locked up. In all previous arrests, he was never found guilty of any crime.
All were cases of wrongful arrest — a clear indication of the law being used as a weapon by individuals in government. They were also a clear indication of judicial capture, police capture and prisons capture, as the three institutions colluded to keep an innocent man in jail for political reasons. The capture of state institutions by Zanu-PF is an issue Haruzivishe has always been vocal about.
Before his latest arrest, Haruzivishe started the #PeoplePower campaign. He explained that he believed that we, the people of Zimbabwe, have the power to free ourselves from capture. Haruzivishe is a firm believer in the power of peaceful protest. He has always preached peace and restraint to his comrades and friends. He believes that our power lies not in our ability to be violent, but in our numbers — in our ability to protest peacefully, en masse.
In July 2020, Haruzivishe told me about a plan to “whistle for change”. He said many people were afraid to protest in the streets — understandable, as we have an extremely violent government. The plan was therefore to get as many people as possible to blow a whistle at the same time each day, to register their displeasure with Zanu-PF corruption and repression. His emphasis was on expressing dissent as loudly but as peacefully as possible.
Also part of the peaceful protest was the “hoot for change” protest. He laughed as he said to me, “Hey Mamo, I don’t have a car but we can’t exclude the elite from our protest now can we?” So those with cars would hoot and those with whistles would blow them.
What a humble, brilliant and gentle soul. It breaks my heart that a young man whose only crime was to want a better Zimbabwe for all has been behind bars for almost a year.
The tragedy of it all, to me, is that the jailers of this man who believes in nonviolent protest, who believes in peaceful resolution, are violent criminals who have killed thousands of Zimbabweans to stay in power, and have impoverished millions to enrich themselves.
Who, between Makomborero Haruzivishe and his jailers, should be in prison?
In the past few months, efforts by his lawyers to get Haruzivishe out of prison have been scuttled at every turn. The people who put him in prison are, unfortunately, in control of the courts.
One of Haruzivishe’s recent appearances was postponed yet again, to 9 December 2021 after the state’s witness failed to attend court. He was said to be in Beitbridge on government business. The court issued a warrant of arrest after complaints from Obey Shava, Haruzivishe’s lawyer in that particular case.
Shava’s submission included the following:
“Your worship, I don’t know why I should even address the court. You have witnessed yourself the continued violation of the accused person’s rights from the day that this matter was brought before you. We are talking about an accused who has been in custody for more than eight months as a result of the state’s deliberate strategy to frustrate the trial of this matter.
“You have not excused this witness. He knew he was supposed to appear before you, but we are told that government business takes precedence over court processes. I can’t imagine the state has made such embarrassing submissions in a bid to defend the indefensible, to justify the unjustifiable. The court must stamp its authority or risk having the public lose confidence in our justice delivery system. It’s more of the court’s integrity than anything else.”
The arrest warrant was issued, but alas, Haruzivishe is still in jail. He was arrested on three charges. All are being tried separately. All with different co-accused. He has been granted bail in two of the cases, but remains in custody because he was denied bail in the third matter.
This has been cunningly designed to ensure that he is kept in prison without a fair trial for as long as the state wants him there. As we approach the anniversary of his imprisonment, I would like to appeal to progressives everywhere to join the fight to free Haruzivishe.
This fight will continue even when he is granted bail in the third case.
This is because, without resistance, the system will keep him on trial for as long as it can. It will give him insufferable bail conditions just so that it keeps him under surveillance. He will be made to report to the police station several times a week. He will be forced to reside at a particular address.
In or out of jail, he will not be free. Neither will he be safe. What we must fight for is the dropping of all charges.
The continued persecution of Makomborero Haruzivishe by the government of Zimbabwe, clearly in collusion with the judiciary and other state institutions, must be brought to an end.
We have the responsibility as human rights defenders worldwide — as African and Zimbabwean citizens and as friends of Haruzivishe — to demand his freedom, as he is unable to demand it for himself. DM/MC
Maverick Citizen has been reporting on the persecution of Haruzivishe and other human rights activists in Zimbabwe. Last year we published a letter from Haruzivishe in prison, here.