By Richard Chidza
Pastor Evan Mawarire was defiant when he emerged out of the gates of Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison following his brief incarceration on treason related charges early this month, declaring that there would be no let-up in his campaign to bring President Robert Mugabe’s regime to account.
Mawarire was arrested as landed at Harare International Airport on February 1 after spending six months in the United States.
He left the country last year after his trial on treason charges collapsed and Mugabe issue with his involvement in the #ThisFlag movement.
Last Friday, Mawarire gave the clearest hint yet that he was ready to enter Zimbabwe’s treacherous political terrain where prison always looms large for anyone not on Mugabe’s side.
His description of prison life and his determination to trudge ahead with his activism showed a man who is ready to make a sacrifice for the sake of his country.
“Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison is designed to be very intimidating,” he told The Standard.
“Its high walls, hardwood doors make sure one understands they are in jail. The food is just one dish all day every day, sadza and dried vegetables (mufushwa).
“Ablution facilities do not have running water so inmates have to agree that when it is lockup time all must have relieved themselves in the toilets outside.
He added that: “Sleeping conditions are seriously crammed. The whole prison is overcrowded, the hospital is not well-stocked with medication so inmates have to depend on family members and well-wishers.
“Some prison guards are abusive but not all and inmates are visibly scared of them, following orders without question.”
However, what drove the point home that the country’s prison system was broken was when he was told he could not go to court because there was no fuel.
Were it not for well-wishers who reportedly donated fuel to the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS), he would have spent several more nights in prison.
“I was informed that fuel had been donated but I am not sure what happened to it. I certainly did not go to court [at one time] because apparently there was no fuel,” said Mawarire.
Mawarire confirmed he had been advised at one time that he could not be transported to court because there was no fuel but said he did not know who donated the fuel.
However, ZPCS spokesperson Superintendent Priscilla Mthembu last night said they never received any fuel donation from anyone.
She said the standard procedure for all donations was that they are received by either the officer in charge of a particular station, the officer commanding a province or head office in Harare.
“Upon receiving the donation it is booked and signed for by the donor. Our records show that no one donated any fuel to the prisons services,” Mthembu said. We would love to know who donated the fuel which you are talking about.”
She acknowledged that ZPCS indeed faced fuel challenges over two weeks ago, but said he situation had since been addressed with the courts now being serviced without any problems.
Mawarire described the situation in the country as akin to a prison.
“My experience was a painful one. It was more painful to learn of the situation many of our people find themselves in,” he said.
“If you look at where we were sleeping, bathing and relieving ourselves, gave me a mirror image of Zimbabwe.
“The situation in prison is exactly what the whole of this country is going through, we claim to be free but we cannot say what we want to say, we cannot act even according to the dictates of the Constitution.
“The way that prisoners are incarcerated is the way we all are. We are independent but not free. So we have a job to do.
“Zimbabwe feels like one big prison. It feels like it. If when you come back home as a man who has not committed a crime you are arrested then the country represents one big jail,” said the cleric who rose to national prominence after a social media video campaign when he always appeared while draped in the country’s flag.
Mawarire’s #Thisflag movement calls for an end to corruption and return to democratic tenets of government.
He awaits trial for subversion after leading rolling mass protests against the government last year.