By Rumbidzai Ngwenya
Since childhood, Maxwell Sibanda from Lupane watched as his mother was violently attacked by his father. He was raised in a home where violence was prevalent. Living with an abusive father was terrifying, as he also lashed the children too. Maxwell always watched emotionally and helplessly, thinking “one day when I am old enough I will protect my mother”. As a young boy there was nothing he could do.
But as he grew older he felt it was his duty to protect his mother who had lived most of her life as victim of domestic violence.
On the fateful day that changed Maxwell’s life, a dispute between his parents erupted. Things got nasty. As was the norm, his father physically attacked his mother.
By that time, Maxwell who was married with three children, was old enough to protect his mother. He could not watch anymore, enough was enough.
He had to do something. Trying to save his mother from the hands of an abusive husband, Maxwell ended up caught up in the fight which eventually grew more violent.
This is a move he will live to regret. Emotions and rage took over Maxwell. He stabbed his father with a knife.
According to him, he wanted his father to feel the pain that her mother had endured for many years.
Unfortunately Maxwell’s father sustained severe injuries and died. Protecting his mother turned into murder. Soon after the fateful incident, both Maxwell and his mother were arrested.
Despite his mother having done nothing and was herself a victim, she was arrested as the source of the crime. They were both sentenced to life in prison for the murder of the late Mr Sibanda.
She was sent to Chikurubi Maximum Prison and Maxwell to Harare Central Prison where he has been serving a life sentence up until the recent amnesty by President Mnangagwa.
His mother was the first to have her sentence cut sometime around 2014. But she never came to visit Maxwell who had landed in prison in an attempt to save her.
“It pained me a lot that she never came to visit me yet the incident happened because I was trying to protect her,” said Maxwell.
“But I am past that now, I accepted that I had to face what I had done. I accepted my fate but I am glad I came out of prison alive,” he added.
Nobody ever came to visit him for the past 24 years he spent in prison including his beloved wife and children.
“Since I came here in 1994, the correctional service has been taking care of me.
“The guards and other inmates have become my relatives,” he narrated. “No relative of mine has ever come to visit me, not even my own children and I understand that.
“I do not even know how old they have grown, or if my wife remarried or not,” he said.
To him it shows that nobody wants to associate with him anymore. He does not wish to go back to Lupane. What lies ahead of him is something he cannot imagine.
“People may not accept me back home because I took away somebody they loved.
“If I go back, hatred might be waiting for me, the stigma and discrimination.
“Even the children will be told that I am the reason their grandfather is dead and I do not think that will settle well with them, they might live to hate me,” said Maxwell.
His biggest fear is that he may even be killed.
“I cannot imagine surviving in the prison for 24 years only to die two months later,” he said.
He wishes to find a job, start a new life and live a criminal-free life. Finding a job may be difficulty though, since unlike other inmates he never acquired any skills in prison.
He never thought he would be a free man again.
“I never thought I would walk out of prison alive,” he said.”But I am willing to do any work to earn a living and stay out of prison for good.”
He is also not likely to be accepted back by society. But he is determined to prove the goodness in him.
“I want to show the world that I am no murderer and what happened to me was an accident which can happen to anyone,” he said.
With the help of Prison Fellowship Zimbabwe (PFZ), an organisation that works together with the Zimbabwe Prison Service in their rehabilitation efforts, he has hope.
The organisation sees to it that the society accepts ex-convicts and help them adapt.
PFZ national executive director, Peter Mandiyanike said the organisation would help Maxwell until he stands on his own feet.
“We usually target lifers,” he said. “We find their relatives when they are pardoned.
“We will take care of him until his family members are contacted and if they wish to reunite that is what we expect, but if they do not we will help him out.”
Maxwell was arrested when he was only 30 and is now 54. If it was not for the recent Presidential amnesty, he would have his whole life to serve for the gruesome crime he committed.
He has been given a second chance, which he intends to capitalise on.
However, his life experiences has many lessons.
Domestic violence has severe consequences to society. Because of domestic violence a life was lost and family disintegrated.
In most cases the family turn against each other and can never be reunited again.
The separation of families caused by imprisonment is further seen as an extension of familial separation which is discouraged and not as a strategy of resolving the factors contributing to the violence.
In cases like Maxwell’s, were it not for the Presidential remission of sentence, his children would have to live never knowing their father for the rest of their lives.
Even now they grew without a father, God knows how their mother managed to look after the children.
It is also unknown if they will ever welcome him back in their lives.
It is a situation that could have been avoided.
For a long time efforts have been made by organisations such as the Anti-Domestic Violence Council in Zimbabwe to end domestic violence in the country.
Zimbabwe has also endorsed major international conventions and instruments by making them part of the laws. At most women are victims who continue to bear the brunt of domestic violence.
The country has established fundamental policies and legal provisions which offer women protection of their rights in society.
Cases of domestic violence are still reported though, but it is a habit that has to stop.
It is always urged to report cases of domestic violence to the police who will deal with perpetrators, and never to take matters into own hands like Maxwell did.
For something like what transpired to the Sibandas can also happen to any family or even worse.