SIXTY-TWO-year-old Lillian Chinyerere Mashumba peeps furtively through her window, as if to ensure there are no other strangers, before hesitantly asking this reporter to identify herself.
By Wongai Zhangazha
It’s a hot Monday afternoon in Chitungwiza’s Zengeza 3 suburb.
Although she had agreed to an interview over the phone, Mashumba is evidently uneasy and continues to vet the Zimbabwe Independent team at her gate, from behind closed doors. The curtain closes and she disappears for a while, only to return minutes later to peep through the window yet again, further scanning her surroundings.
After a while, she opens her back door and limps towards the gate with a bunch of keys in her hands.
“I lock the gate at all times. I’m not settled and am living in constant fear. Just last night I heard strangers walking outside my verandah and I saw footprints in the morning,” she says.
Mashumba made international headlines last Friday after eight riot police officers savagely assaulted her with baton sticks at the entrance of the Harare Magistrates Court.
Pictures of her kneeling and raising her hands in surrender as the police officers assaulted her with baton sticks have gone viral. An officer with a teargas grenade gun in his left hand brutally kicked the elderly woman as she lay on the concrete in pain.
A crying Mashumba was comforted by several people who appeared shocked that the police could brutalise an unarmed senior citizen.
Mashumba, a widow who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, was one of hundreds of people who took part in a demonstration organised by 18 opposition political parties pushing for electoral reforms under the National Electoral Reform Agenda.
Despite a High Court order allowing the demonstration, police fired teargas to disperse the demonstrators, leading to running battles.
Mashumba, who was clad in a red and white outfit with red shoes and red handbag, had left her home early in the morning believing the protest would be peaceful like the previous MDC-T demonstration in April.
“When I arrived at the Freedom Square (an open space between the Harare Magistrates Court and Rainbow Towers Hotel) we were told that we should be patient while waiting for the High Court judgment. Because of my old age I decided to rest next to the magistrates court, so that I didn’t have to walk for a long distance, once the demonstration started,” she said.
“The police then descended on Freedom Square and chased people away using teargas and water cannons. I remained seated because I felt there was no reason to flee. I genuinely believed I had done nothing wrong because I was just waiting for the High Court verdict on whether the demonstration should proceed or not.
“The riot police came from behind and started assaulting me while asking why I was sitting there. I lifted up my hands to show them that I was not holding anything, but they kept on beating me,” narrated Mashumba, while lifting her dress to show the black marks left by the baton sticks.
“I was kicked from behind so many times and a baton stick even hit my right ear and shoulders. I told them that I am a diabetic and high blood pressure patient but they said go and die at your house.”
She says she is having difficulties hearing with her right ear after a baton stick landed on it.
Mashumba suddenly broke down as she revealed it was not the first time she had been assaulted by state security agents as she was brutally attacked alongside her late husband in 2003.
She says she was once a staunch Zanu PF supporter who revered President Robert Mugabe from the days of the liberation struggle and during the early days of independence.
“I supported the liberation war while staying in Domboshava. We would attend meetings and contribute towards food supplies for the comrades. My father, Abel Chinyerere, was very active in Zapu while staying in Mbare. In the 1960s our house was repeatedly searched by (Ian) Smith’s security agents who said they were looking for terrorists and weapons so family and in fact most of us played a part in the liberation struggle,” said Mashumba.
She, however, says she has been disappointed and disillusioned by Mugabe’s empty promises, corruption and ineptitude, and she shifted her support to the late Edgar Tekere’s Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM) in 1990.
She then joined the MDC when it was formed in 1999, together with her late husband Stanford Mashumba.
In April 2003, she and her husband were heavily assaulted by state security agents for their political activism. At that time she was the Zengeza district organising secretary while her husband was the chairperson.
“We heard people climbing over our fence into our yard around 10pm. They commanded us to open the door, but we remained silent as we were very scared. Then suddenly windows were broken and a teargas canister was thrown into the house. They demanded that we open the doors,” she said with tears, streaming down her cheeks.
“They then went to the back of the house where they broke the screen gate and the door. We remained tucked under the blankets trying to avoid the effects of the teargas.
“The group, which included soldiers, forced themselves inside the house and broke into our bedroom. I saw a man pointing a gun at my husband. They started assaulting him all over using butts of their guns, booted feet and a whip. They were asking him questions on MDC structures in Chitungwiza while assaulting him, but he refused to divulge information.
“They beat him until he fell unconscious and the soldiers poured two buckets of water on him. They then asked me questions on the MDC structures, to which I remained silent. They assaulted me, but I begged them not to be harsh on me as I had two operations on my stomach. They asked me to show them. I lifted my dress and showed them and they then made me lie on my stomach and started beating me on my back and buttocks.”
Mashumba still has the empty teargas canisters which were fired into her house more than 10 years ago.
Mashumba and her husband were treated at a private hospital in May 2003. According to the hospital or medical reports seen by this newspaper the doctor diagnosed that the injuries they sustained were consistent with assault.
“Since the assault my husband never really became his normal self. He died in 2005 as a result of that assault. So this police brutality evoked sad memories,” said Mashumba.
She also reveals that she had three children, all of whom are late. She did not want to discuss her children as it exacerbated her pain and evoked bad memories.
Mashumba then boldly declared that she would continue fighting for change in honour of her husband, the thousands of people who lost their lives during the liberation struggle, those killed due to political violence and for the benefit of suffering Zimbabweans, despite the police brutality.
“I have nothing to lose anymore. Running away now would be to fail all those who have lost their lives fighting for change that will improve the lives of the young people of this nation. So many youths are unemployed. Itai Dzamara disappeared; we can’t just give up just like that.
“We need to fight for change. For how long are we going to be afraid?” she asked.
Mashumba said the government should not stand in the way of peaceful demonstrators as it was a constitutionally granted right to protest.
Apart from Mashumba, scores of protestors were assaulted by police officers who also indiscriminately fired teargas in public.
Among the victim was a 77-year -old man and six people above 60.
Doctors at a private hospital revealed they had treated 67 people.
“To date (Tuesday) we have received 67 people, two of whom required hospitalisation. The injuries included multiple soft tissue injuries, lacerations, and acute asthma attacks secondary to tear gas inhalation as well as burns from the tear gas canisters,” said a doctor who preferred anonymity.
The doctor said 20 people who were arrested for taking part in the demonstration require medical attention.
“But they have not yet been transported to any medical facility, despite the magistrate recommending that they should have access to medical facilities of their choice as stated in the constitution. In this recent batch we have not treated any children but six of the 67 are over 60, including a 77-year-old man,” said the doctor.
Social commentator Maxwell Saungweme said Mashumba’s assault showed the moral bankruptcy of Mugabe’s regime as police brutality had reached alarming levels.
“In the past week alone we have seen an old woman sitting peacefully at magistrates courts in Harare being brutally assaulted for no reason; we have also seen police throwing teargas into commuter buses; randomly beating people moving around doing their business, and unleashing arms, chemical liquids and tear smoke on peaceful and unarmed protestors,” Saungweme said.
“Such brutality demonstrates how ruthless this regime is and how unprofessional our police force has become. It also confirms that Zimbabwe is breaking its previous records of human rights violations.” Human rights groups this week condemned the rights abuses and police brutality. Zimbabwe has a grisly human rights record since 1980, an extension of colonial brutality.