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Mukoko: You don’t recover from torture

Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) director Jestina Mukoko has spoken about how she still lives with the trauma of being tortured by state agents following her abduction 12 years ago.

Mukoko (JM) told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube  (TN) on the platform In Conversation With Trevor that one never fully recovers from inhumane treatment such as torture.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

TN: Jestina Mukoko, I am delighted that I have finally pinned you down. You have been running away from me. Welcome to In Conversation With Trevor.

JM: Thank you very much, Trevor, and I am also very delighted to be here.

TN: Excellent. So, Jestina, as I was saying off-air, you are one of my heroes, and you know when I look at you a couple of things happen.

You remind me of the brutality of Zanu PF, the inhumanity of Zanu PF, and the extent that Zanu PF and the Robert Mugabe government could go to intimidate you, harass you, torture you.

Yours is an amazing story; but also, you remind me of the amazing strength of the human spirit.

Your courage inspires me so much and I am hoping through this conversation, for us I know it might get painful at moments, that we delve into what you went through.

Have you fully recovered from what you went through?

JM: When you go through this, Trevor, you do not fully recover, you do not regain your former self.

You are wounded for life.

You are able through therapy to get healing here and there, but there are times when December 3 arrives, I go back to that day when I was hauled out of the house and that also eats into me.

So you do not fully recover.

TN: You have gone through therapy, and that kind of stuff.

We will get into those issues.

Let us go back to December 3, 2008.

You were abducted, then detained for quite some time. You were tortured for an extended period of time. What crime had you allegedly committed?

JM: Nothing. Nothing. It is the work that I do. I work for the Zimbabwe Peace Project, and we monitor and document human rights violations.

What we do is we emphasise who did what to whom, when and how, and we name and shame perpetrators, and I believe that was my crime.

Being able to document things as they happened.

I think a lot of people feared that probably justice would catch up with them in terms of the work that I was doing.

TN: Take us through. So you get abducted.

JM: Yes.

TN: In front of your 17-year-old son and he witnesses all the stuff.

You get detained for some time? Briefly walk us through your abduction?

You were actually in your night dress, and then taken to various places?

Walk us through what happened to you. the painful moments? The highlights of this horrendous ordeal that you went through?

JM: It was dawn, and my son knocks and says ‘Mama, there are visitors at the gate’, around 5am.

I thought to myself who comes and visits at 5am?

My vacation was actually supposed to start on that day, so I said to him that they should go and deal with the visitors.

In no time he was back and he says ‘Mama, the people at the gate are actually police officers’, and  I just thought that probably a neighbour had been robbed and the police wanted to know if I had seen or heard anything.

So I quickly grabbed a dressing gown and walked barefoot, I did not even have my glasses.

I thought it would just be brief, because I knew I had not committed a crime.

I was confronted by these huge men, there were six of them, five men and one woman.

So as I am approaching the kitchen, they come and one holds my right hand and the other my left hand.

That was after I had confirmed that I was Jestina Mukoko.

I then asked if they could give me time to dress.

They said they did not have time, and there I was forced-marched out of the house.

It wasn’t just my 17-year-old son, I also had a six-year-old nephew I was staying with at the time, and my two helpers, one outside and also the one in the house.

They were shouting as we were walking out to say they just wanted me to look at a file that they had in the car and once I told them what they wanted to know they would leave me.

I asked why they were holding my hands with so much strength.

When we got to the gate it was an unmarked car, a silver Mazda Familia, and I was bundled into the back.

There was another man who was sitting to the right as I got in, and then the other one who followed immediately after me.

I was told to have my head on the lap of the man on the right.

I am not sure when he last had a bath, but as I was taking my head down I noticed that there was a rifle on the floor.

Immediately it hit me that this was no ordinary arrest, I actually knew it was no arrest.

There and then I noticed that music went up; they hardly spoke, it was through their eyes and I also sensed that there were other vehicles, because five men and one woman came into the house and there were only four of them in this vehicle.

So the others must have gone to another vehicle or other vehicles that they had.

We drove from Norton at high speed with this music blarring out, and that is when my thoughts were going around.

I was not dressed and I did not know these people, and what was going through my mind, I was thinking it was either the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) or Zanu PF militia because those are the ones that we dealt with at my workplace in terms of people being abducted and people being tortured.

I started to think: but what had I done of late?

The day before I had presented a statement at a function of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, and probably I was thinking is it something that I said there or what? You know you begin…

TN: Yes, your mind is running?

JM: Yes. It was I think after about 20 minutes of driving when the woman then says what time are we getting to Mutare?

I think they wanted to disorient me.

Then about 10 minutes after that they passed signs with their eyes and the men on the right then picked a woollen item from the floor and he covered my face, even covered my nose and my mouth and I complained that I could not breathe.

He then lifted it a bit and within a few minutes the car came to a stop.

That music had stopped, but at this house there was also music blarring out. I was wondering where I was.

They took me into a corner room, it looked like a pantry because it had these shelves and I was asked to sit down and the woollen item was removed and they changed that with a dirty mutton cloth.

I was left there and the door was locked.

Within a few hours my ordeal had started.

I think there were five or six of them who came and when the blindfold had been removed, I started being questioned about my relationship with the MDC-T.

I had no relationship with MDC-T. They referred to a trip that we had made as ZPP staff to Botswana, and I was told that is when I allegedly went and left some people who were being trained in Botswana, and that was all lies.

It seems that I had actually been followed all that long because I had one staff member, who used an emergency document and that was spoken about there as well.

Then they asked me about someone within the MDC, who I said I did not know, and that is when my torture started.

There were these two men, one was tall and the other one was a short guy and they had these two truncheons, one was a horse-kind of a thing and the other one seemed to have had wire on it.

I was told to stretch my legs and they were beating the soles of my feet.

Every time I said what they did not want I would get a beating, and this went on for the entire day because they were saying I was recruiting for the MDC-T, and then having young people being sent to Botswana where they would then come back to commit acts of sabotage and terrorism to remove a constitutionally elected government.

My doctor asked my son ‘Do you think your mother is capable of this?’

She said he laughed his heart out and said they did not know what they were talking about.

So it went on for an entire day until it got quite dark.

At that time, I actually thought that I would see my feet with blood splurging out of the soles of my feet onto the walls because of  the pain I was feeling in the feet.

TN: So how long did this go on December 3? And how long did this torture/dehumanisation, how long did it last?

JM: There would just be breaks for food. Initially in the morning when I got there I told myself I was not going to eat.

So I told them I had a stomach bug so I did not want to eat.

However, after going through the initial torture, I think probably it was from about 9am to about 12pm or 1pm because that is when the lunch came and I had no energy.

Initially I screamed, but I then told myself screaming will give these guys satisfaction, I decided I was not going to scream.

So I would really keep the pain inside, and it was when they would go out that you know the lump in the throat would then give in to me getting emotional.

When lunch came, because I had no energy at all, I took it and had a bit of sadza.

It was served with cabbage on that first day and immediately after I finished they came back and the beating went on.

There was a desk in the room, I was sitting on the floor and at one time I was asked to raise my feet on that desk, and what they had done was I think they had come to Mupedzanhamo or something to get a dress, because they noticed that I was in my night-clothes and all.

So I was given a dress. Initially I said I did not want to wear it, and the woman who came said, “If you know what is good for you, you need to put this on”, and then she spoke something about the toilet because she also had plastic shoes.

So I had to put on those plastic shoes.

I was told to remove the plastic shoes and I was like you have just asked me to put them on?

So I would raise my feet. You know the indignity of your dress then coming down and the beating going on.

You know these were men who were strong, applying all their power on the soles of my feet and they continued to say “well, you are going to speak”, but I had nothing else to tell them. The people that they were asking me about I did not even know them.

At one time they said “Who do you know in MDC-T?” I simply responded that the people I knew were probably the same people they knew as they were always in the news.

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