HARARE – A new book detailing the brutal torture meted out on human rights activist Jestina Mukoko by the President Robert Mugabe regime, serves as a harrowing reminder of the true nature of the governing Zanu PF party.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) national director exposed the horror of the Mugabe regime, recording in detail for the first time, her 21-day torture ordeal.
She details how she risked being murdered after her December 2, 2008 abduction.
Mukoko’s harrowing testament is contained in the book The Abduction and Trial of Jestina Mukoko – The Fight for Human Rights in Zimbabwe.
It details her 21-day incommunicado detention where she was put through hell.
The book was first released in South Africa last month, followed by the Harare launch last week.
Mukoko’s book could put Harare’s abuses at centre stage again. Her testimony is essential if people were to understand the horror at the heart of the regime, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights director Irene Petras said.
By writing a book, Mukoko was keen to let people know her background.
She saluted the right activists at the forefront of demanding her release.
In one of the most harrowing extracts from the book, Mukoko said her son, who was only 17 at the time, woke her up at her Norton home, saying there were cops at the gate.
“I did not think much of it, I had planned to relax and sleep on that day ahead of my vacation. My son said the people looking for me were police officers,” recalled Mukoko.
“I thought there could have been a house break-in at one of my neighbours, hence the police at my gate wanting to ask me questions. I woke up, put on my morning gown and walked out of the house with my son behind me. That was the last time my son saw me that day.”
Six men and a woman shoved her into an unmarked vehicle and she was directed to keep her head down.
She was driven off after being blindfolded. As they were driving away, she noticed a rifle on the floor of the car, which was booming with loud music, she recalled. They drove for about 30 to 45 minutes.
“No one told me why they were taking me away, I was not even allowed to dress decently … I did not have my undergarments on,” Mukoko wrote.
“When the car stopped, I realised there was loud music again at the place I was brought in. I was put in a small room which had shelves. They took a piece of cloth and replaced the first woollen cloth to blindfold me again and locked the door.”
She said she was paralysed with fear and feared for her son and family.
Unsure where she was, she said was dragged in front of people she did not know and the interrogation started, centring mainly around the ZPP, the NGO she worked for.
She was also grilled about a trip she took to Botswana for a debriefing after the 2008 elections.
She cooperated and told them “everything” about her organisation and its work, which was public information anyway.
Then her captors accused her of working with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and stunningly accused her of insurgency and recruiting MDC youths to train in Botswana in an alleged regime change plot.
She denied this, and the torture started. She was told to either turn State witness “or face extinction” and be buried in the premises.
She recalls being beaten brutally on the soles of her feet.
“They used long steel covered in rubber all over; it was the most painful thing my body had ever experienced.
“That method of torture is called falanga, where they whip your soles because they knew that in the past it was not easy to detect the injuries, even through x-ray. But now there is scan called the colour doppler, that can easily detect dilated veins that are in line with that kind of torture.”
After 21 days, she was taken to a police station after an international campaign for her release was mounted. She was charged and detained.
She was later taken to court, and remanded at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare. She was to spend two months in that hellhole.
“At Chikurubi Maximum Prison, which was a terrible place to be in, I could be visited by family everyday and could see my lawyer,” said Mukoko.
“In court, I argued for the stay of criminal prosecution, on the basis that the evidence that they said they had against me was extracted during torture, and that my rights as a Zimbabwean citizen were violated through the abduction and that torture.
“The case was then referred to the Constitutional Court as the magistrate felt that it had the merits to be heard in the higher court.”
The case was heard in June 2009. The Con-Court in September handed down a permanent stay of proceedings after a unanimous verdict that her rights had been flagrantly violated by the State.
“I was accused of terrorism by my government. The charges didn’t stick; I got a permanent stay of criminal prosecution.”
She went through a tough ordeal after the falanga torture, and struggled to wear high heels, she said, and struggled for months to go to sleep.
“The pain made me numb… I received counselling, and all along I thought I was on a road to recovery and that I would be able to tell my story without breaking down … I am only recognising now that I am still far from that space.”
Mukoko, recently accused Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) senior elder Didymus Mutasa of throwing bureaucratic obstacles to thwart the naming and shaming of people who abducted and tortured her.
Mutasa in an interview said it was natural for him to be cautious on naming the abductors and torturers in light of the Official Secrets Act oath he took as State Security minister.
But he said he was prepared to furnish the leading human rights activist with the names in private.
Speaking at the Harare book launch, Petras lamented that Zimbabwe still does not have laws which deal with enforced disappearances.
“This presents a challenge to lawyers and even the police don’t know how to deal with matters of this nature,” she said.
Rights activists also cite the disappearance of journalist-cum-human rights activist Itai Dzamara, who has been missing for over 13 months after being abducted in Glen View, as an example of the State’s failure to protect its citizens.