Looking at his tattered white T-shirt emblazoned with MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s face, Peter Marange takes a deep breath, trying hard to hold back emotions as he narrates a blood- curdling tale endured at the hands of riot police officers two weeks ago.
BY XOLISANI NCUBE
He looks at his battered knees, decrepit elbow and turns to a mirror behind his office chair to see if his face still has scars sustained during the August 26 demonstrations in Harare against Zimbabwe’s skewed electoral playing field.
“These are wounds inflicted on me by the police for a crime I do not know,” says the 44-year old Marange as he showed The Standard news crew scars from the alleged police brutality.
His crime, according to the police, was being part of thousands of opposition supporters who gathered at the open space near Rainbow Towers now popularly known as Freedom Square in pushing for electoral reforms under the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera).
“I am an MDC-T member, so I joined other party supporters in demonstrating against the uneven electoral playing field. It did not occur in my mind that this day would bring these scars on me because, as a party, we are law abiding,” Marange said.
What pains him most is that it is the police who allegedly provoked the protestors resulting in the violence which engulfed Harare on that day.
“Our cause is genuine. We are demanding an even playing field. Only those who know that they can’t win in a free environment are afraid ,” Marange said.
He said with the level of intolerance exhibited by the police, innocent people were injured as unarmed civilians engaged in a bitter fight with armed police officers.
This, Marange alleges, was aimed at breaking their resolve to fight for a better Zimbabwe. He said actions by the police renewed their spirit and resolve to remove President Robert Mugabe from power.
“If Mugabe and his police officers think that by beating up people they will prolong their hold on power, they must think twice. We are determined to see this regime off,” he said.
As Marange marched into Freedom Square, he was already sensing a possible attack by the police although it is the extent of the brutality that shocked him.
“I knew somehow that police will never allow us to enjoy this right (to demonstrate) easily, but I not did anticipate the brutality to be so severe such that even innocent civilians were to be victims of their actions,” he said
“When we gathered at the Freedom Square, we were singing and toyi-toying around the area waiting for the leaders who had gone to the High Court to update us on the way forward.
“We were ready to go back home had the courts ruled otherwise. But we had hoped that our demonstration was going to be allowed because it is our right to do so.”
Marange said police officers suddenly threw teargas canisters at them without provocation.
He said protestors were singing peacefully while waiting for the High Court ruling.
“When they started throwing teargas, my colleagues managed to run away but I could not. I was affected by the gas resulting in me falling down,” he said.
“I tried to run but I failed until the cops pounced on me. They really feasted on my.
“Imagine, I was alone surrounded by more than 10 police officers, each one of them hitting me with boots and baton sticks.
“It’s really sad for a free Zimbabwe to endure this kind of callous acts.”
Marange pauses for a moment, takes another breather and smiles: “Mugabe will go one day,” he says as he looks at the scars on his right elbow.
He looks at the tattered T-Shirt with grim while his eyes turn red,-tears trickling his cheek and in a cracked voice he states, “one day this man, Save (Tsvangirai’s totem) will be the president of Zimbabwe. If this is a dream, it shall come true. I know,” Marange said.
“I was kicked several times and one cop hit me on my head resulting in these wounds on my hands as I was trying to protect this big head from being injured,” he smiles again.
“I almost collapsed. It is only by the grace of God that I did not die. I struggle to sit uprightly because my back is in pain.”
Marange alleged some of the police officers are unprofessional even to the extent of declaring that they would defend Mugabe even if it means killing opposition members.
“One of the officers shouted that ‘you think you can remove (President Robert) Mugabe through a demonstration’, I felt energised, I felt insulted and told myself, this is the reason I will fight this old man called Mugabe till he steps down,” he states.
He said as the cops tried to bundle him into their truck, he wrestled with them until he managed to escape.
“The other officers were also running away from the youths who were advancing towards them so I used that moment to flee.
“I did not go home immediately, but remained with the protestors until the end of it all. I was taken to the clinic late in the evening that is when I started to feel the pain,” he says.
While many might think twice on whether to participate in future demonstrations, Marange says the words from the cop that you cannot remove Mugabe through protests have inspired his resolve to fight the regime to the bitter end.
“It’s either I die fighting or I see a new Zimbabwe. I will fight Zanu PF and it’s machinery till we win.
:It took the children of Israel 40 years in the wilderness but at the end of it, the strong arrived in Canaan. As they say, no pay without pain, I believe we are paying for our freedom,” he said.
He looks again at the elbow with a scar and says; “So long the Lord lives and loves Zimbabwe, Mugabe one day shall go.
“The police officers, who beat me up mercilessly, shall one day salute me and we shall live in peace one day. It may be long or seem impossible, remember (Ian) Smith tried it, it failed, I am sorry Mugabe will fail”.
“These wounds bear-witness to Mugabe’s brutality and one day will testify that we have fought a good fight against oppression. We deserve a better Zimbabwe”.
Although he is among the protestors who were injured but not arrested, some of his colleagues were unfortunate as they had to limp to the magistrate courts after being beaten up for taking to the streets demanding the right to vote in a credible election.
According to the MDC-T department of social welfare, over 20 people who were arrested for taking part in the demonstration required medical attention as they were allegedly injured by the cops.
“If I die fighting Mugabe and his Zanu PF cronies, my blood will surely be on his children, I mean it.
“For me, I have tried everything, but here I am today, helpless. I can’t feed my family, I can’t cloth myself yet I am told I should not fight this regime, never! If they can kill all of us, let it be so,” Marange says.
His resolve after such a horrifying incident is also shared by a 62 -year-old Lillian Chinyerere Mashumba whose pictures, while being booted and bludgeoned by police has gone viral worldwide.
“When you organise the next demonstration, please tell me in advance, I want to be there. In fact I will be at the fore-front this time around and if those young boys want to kill me, they will do so,” Chinyerere Mashumba told MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai when he visited her after she was pictured being beaten by police.
“I have nothing to lose anymore. Running away now would be to fail all those who have lost their lives fighting for change that will improve the lives of the young people of this nation.
“So many youths are unemployed. Itai Dzamara disappeared; we can’t just give up just like that.”
Tsvangirai said the police actions showed that Zanu PF was panicking.
He said: “I hear Mugabe saying Tsvangirai is sending people, sure, how can I send a hungry woman to go into the street and demonstrate against Mugabe?
“What has Mugabe done for these to ensure that they don’t register their anger?
“People are fed up with the regime and it must respond to their demands.”