HARARE – Human rights campaigner Jestina Mukoko has said Environment minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri vigorously opposed her 2008 abduction by suspected State security agents.
The claims are contained in Mukoko’s book titled The Abduction and Trial of Jestina Mukoko: The Fight for Human Rights in Zimbabwe, published last month.
Mukoko was taken away at gunpoint at dawn in Norton on December 3, 2008 by a group of plain-clothed men who stormed her house and identified themselves as policemen.
Her fate was not publicly known until she appeared in court three weeks later.
In the book, Mukoko revealed that Muchinguri-Kashiri, who was the Zanu PF Women’s League boss at the time, had offered to assist in tracing her whereabouts after she was approached by the Women’s Coalition in Zimbabwe (WCZ).
Mukoko said Muchinguri-Kashiri expressed keenness to assist.
The minister reportedly said she wanted to meet with Mukoko’s mother.
“Arrangements were made for the meeting at which Muchinguri-Kashiri assured my mother that she would help solve the mystery of my whereabouts,” she wrote in her gripping book.
She added that after her release, her mother was full of praises for Muchinguri-Kashiri, whom she described as “a respected leader in Zanu PF who phoned regularly to assure her (Mukoko’s mother) that she was trying her best to get to the bottom of the matter.”
“My lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa was convinced that if Muchinguri-Kashiri had not been a member of Zanu PF, she would have taken to the streets to protest my disappearance.
“When I did finally meet Muchinguri-Kashiri, she hugged me like a long-lost daughter. Three years later, she told me she had not known what work I was doing and had put her head on a block, despite the fact that it made her unpopular, simply because I was a woman in trouble,” Mukoko wrote.
A former newscaster for the State-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, Mukoko heads the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a human rights monitoring group.
She publicly presented her findings on what she said were violent abuses. Her group documented violence during internationally condemned elections in 2008.
Mukoko, who was released from three months of detention, was full of praises for Muchinguri-Kashiri.
“A fighter in the liberation struggle that ushered in Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, I imagined she knew how it felt to be away from family,” she glowingly said of Muchinguri-Kashiri.
Muchinguri-Kashiri was not picking her phone when efforts to get her comment were made yesterday.
Turning to her abduction, Mukoko said she was falsely accused of recruiting youths for military training with the opposition MDC.
She said she was beaten on the soles of her feet with rubber truncheons — allegedly a favourite torture instrument because they leave no marks likely to be visible at later court appearances.
After three days, Mukoko claimed, she was handed over to another group of interrogators who claimed they were “law and order” officials who threatened her with “extinction” if she chose not to be a witness to the alleged cases of military training.
“As the hours rolled into days and days quickly transformed into weeks, most people, including my family, believed I was dead.
“When later I told Beatrice (Mtetwa) that I thought I would never make it alive since my captors had threatened me with death during interrogation, Beatrice revealed that despite her efforts on my behalf, she too feared that I had suffered the same fate as Tonderai Ndira, an MDC activist, who died only minutes after he had been snatched,” she narrated.
Following her abduction, prominent world figures including then British Premier Gordon Brown and then United States’ national security adviser Condoleezza Rice demanded her release.
The “Group of Elders”, including Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and Graca Machel, who at the time were being refused admission into Zimbabwe, also made an appeal for Mukoko’s release.
The High Court also ordered police to look for Mukoko but the order was ignored as police denied knowledge of her whereabouts.