International: Horror at the hands of Zimbabwe police

by J. Moyo*

At 12h15 on Tuesday November 8, the police rounded up marchers along Leopold Takawira Road. The marchers were workers who were peacefully asking for government to provide anti-retroviral drugs, ensure availability of drugs in hospitals and to reduce poverty, taxes and prices.The armed police violently loaded about 160 of us, including more than six from the metal sector, into trucks and we were locked up at Central Police Station. The conditions were terrible, it was hot in the cells with an uncompromising stench coming from the broken sewage system.Cells designed to carry or accommodate six people were filled with more than 15 inmates. The police treated us like political activists pushing a political agenda.At around midnight, we were loaded into a truck to an unknown destination. Over 160 people were forced to squat in an 8-ton truck for a distance only our capturers knew. Heavily armed intelligence operatives were keeping vigil with guns pointing at us.Because of overcrowding and the positions we were made to sit in, women were the first to crack, urinating in the truck as it drove through red robots heading south of the city.Everyone started praying when we thought of Goromonzi Police Station (well-known for torture). We started texting messages to our loved ones and lawyers about how we might be shot dead by this cruel regime.

Worse than Iraqi prisonsWe breathed a sigh of relief when the driver turned right to Chitungwiza Police Station. When we reached it, our relief turned to horror. Chitungwiza had had no water for the past three months. The conditions were worse than what we read about in Iraqi prisons. We were split into groups of 25 and locked in cells which accommodate six people. We gave each other turns to sleep while others stood. To relieve ourselves we used a plastic bucket which overflowed as there was no-one to remove it. Human waste ran on the floor with a terrible stench. There was no electricity. Our food was thrown in the dark. We ate food without washing our hands.The police were saying they would be happy if we suffocated to death because we had entered the political arena. On November 10, the situation worsened. We were accused of insulting the government in our songs, the songs which kept our morale and spirits high. Vagrants, some as young as seven years, were mixed with us as well as criminals.

Trade unions don’t need permissionPosa (Public Safety Act) requires anyone who wants to have a gathering to apply for permission. However it exempts trade union work. Zimbabwe courts have confirmed that in earlier judgments involving ZCTU.But our partisan police officers have maintained that any gathering needs approval of the police.We were detained for more than 48 hours, the limit set by the law. The High Court came to our rescue and ordered the police to release us or take us to court by Friday November 11.In a normal democracy, no government would arrest its citizens/workers living with Aids, the disabled, the elderly and students for marching peacefully.Until the government addresses the above-mentioned issues, we are prepared to go back to those filthy cells, next time in bigger numbers. We as workers are smelling victory on our bread and butter issues.

*(J Moyo is general secretary of the National Engineering Workers Union)