HARARE – The woman who spent two nights in police cells with her one-year-old son in connection with the alleged bombing of Zanu PF offices in Highfield has spoken out for the first time.
Terror is written all over the young woman’s face.
She is clearly uneasy when we meet her for this exclusive interview.
Initially, she is reluctant to talk about her traumatising experience.
Spiwe Pambayi normally leads a routine life in one of the country’s oldest suburbs, Highfield, where she spends her day selling cheap wares to support her small family.
But life has changed dramatically since that day — Saturday, September 28 to be precise — when she was arrested for allegedly being behind the bombing of the Zanu PF Highfield offices.
Pambayi says she now lives in fear.
“I am still terrified by what happened to me and my son,” an apprehensive Pambayi tells The Legal Monitor as she sorts out the wares she sells.
“I should be in a hospital bed recovering from the shock, but I have to fend for my children,” says the 32-year-old vendor. She tells us how her business as well as social life has been affected by the two days she spent in detention."
“Even my friends and relatives have not stopped querying about what really happened and that has affected me badly,” says Pambayi.
Police detained Pambayi and her one-year-old baby, Clifford, at Machipisa Police Station on Saturday, September 28, before moving them to Harare Central Police Station for another night.
Since then, Pambayi is wary of her surroundings and The Legal Monitor experiences this fear first hand during its quest for an interview.
It takes several phone assurances, and then false starts involving several trips to meet her.
“Mati murikudei mukuwasha? Muri mapurisa? (What do you want? Are you a policeman?),” she asks over the phone.
After the interview, she apologises for the “screening” saying: “I do not want to spend another day in police custody. I have had enough of it.
“The problem now is I can’t trust anyone. That is why I was asking you so many questions over the phone. I am not like that under normal circumstances,” she says. One cannot fail to notice the disquiet. Throughout the interview, she holds Clifford close to her chest — like that vulnerable prized asset.
“Clifford is so young and innocent. He just doesn’t deserve this. No child should go through such an experience,” says the diminutive mother of two.
“Just look at me, where would I get the strength or even just the thought of doing such a heinous act (of bombing Zanu PF offices)? Until the day of the arrest, I was not even aware of the incident,” she says, pleading her innocence.
Pambayi and her child were only released last Monday after the intervention of lawyer Charles Kwaramba of Mbidzo, Muchadehama and Makoni Legal Practitioners, a member of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
According to the police, an informant overheard Pambayi boasting that “fire-fire operation yatakaita nezuro yakabudirira,” which the police translated to mean “the fire-fire operation that we conducted yesterday (Friday September 27) was a success”. The bombing reduced the Zanu PF offices to rubble.
But, it is Pambayi who is feeling the real damage at a personal level. Even though she is out, Pambayi does not feel free. Police released her after recording a warned and cautioned statement and indicating that they are carrying out further investigations.
The prospect of jail for any mother such as Pambayi is a real nightmare in Zimbabwe, where human rights lawyers, convicts and members of the judiciary describe prisons as death traps.
Young children have often borne the brunt of being jailed with their mothers in grave conditions.
Take the example of Nigel Mutemagawu in 2008. Now seven, Nigel was dubbed the youngest terrorist after spending jail time with his mother, who had been in remand prison for allegedly plotting to topple President Robert Mugabe’s government.
Freeing both mother and child, High Court judge Justice Charles Hungwe in 2008 described the jailing of Nigel as “totally unconscionable and immoral”.
Today, Nigel struggles to lead a normal life and often suffers hallucinations, according to his parents.
Apart from Justice Hungwe, lawyers and politicians who have previously been jailed for their work have spoken about the grave conditions children face in Zimbabwe’s under-resourced jails.
Their pleas for mechanisms to be put in place so that innocent children don’t have to suffer for their mothers’ perceived crimes have so far fallen on deaf ears.
And kids such as Clifford and Nigel bear testimony to the authorities’ brutal appetite for jailing innocent children.