Shake Hands with the Devil: A Date with Chiminya’s Murderers.
I have reflected in some of my previous articles about the tragic and barbaric deaths that befell my colleagues Tichaona Chiminya and Talent Mabika in 2000 at the hands of Joseph Mwale and other ZANU PF functionaries.
Today, 15 April 2011, marks eleven years of their deaths. Instead of focussing my thoughts on the pursuit of justice, I choose today to reflect on a rather personal experience I endured in the aftermath of their deaths.
Aljazeera TV ( England) recently showed a very moving and touching documentary about the military dictatorship that took over after overthrowing a democratically elected government in Argentina in 1976.The coup was led by Gen Rafael Videla.Soon after thousands of civilians were tortured, and murdered under Argentina’s so called ‘dirty war’. One of those tortured was Gerardo Brusezzi, a Uruguayan journalist who was accused of being a communist terrorist. Gerardo would 30 years later come back to Argentina to confront the very person who tortured and sodomised him, Julio Simon, in front of the cameras. Simon was in prison awaiting trial for his role during the dirty war torturing sessions.
Watching the documentary revived my recollection of a scene described in Shake Hands with The devil: The failure of Humanity in Rwanda, written by Lt Gen Romeo Dallaire, who headed the doomed UN mission to Rwanda during the genocide. There, Romeo had come face to face with Robert Kajuga,president of the interahamwe,the Hutu militia credited with the mass killings that saw about a million mainly Tutsi’s slaughtered with machetes and panga’s in the most primitive way possible. The encounter would shake Romeo’s conscience as he searched for an explanation on why a fellow human being can be so callous and cold. It is this encounter which provided the title of his book, Shake Hands with the Devil: meeting Satan personified.
How would you feel if today you meet the real devil, Satan himself? How would you feel meeting someone who tried to murder you? Or someone who did terrible things to you, maybe rape, sodomy, torture? What would you say to them? Grab them by the throat and squeeze the life out of them slowly or seek an understanding? It is strange how sometimes victims react toward their abusers. Some have shown remarkable attachment to their abusers leading to the emergency of the so called Stockholm syndrome. I remember vividly when Saddam Hussein was being led to the hanging chambers broadcast live on television. When they tied the rope round his neck moments before his death, I felt so sorry for him. Just recently the near same scene was repeated in Ivory Coast when Laurent Gbagbo was captured. Suddenly the strongman was reduced to a nobody and watching Outtarras forces move him violently I felt sorry for the poor man.He was wearing the most undignified fatigues for a ‘president’, and his wife Simone was dishevelled; in essence broken souls.
How could I feel sorry for much people who have caused so much terror, abuse and deaths for their country man?. I am a firm believer in ‘just deserts’, but here I am feeling sympathy for the very people I despise.
In the aftermath of the Buhera murders I was called to the MDC offices then at Eastgate in Harare. For the first time I met Topper, one of the many people who were giving expert technical support to the MDC.He wanted me to provide a written statement on the deaths of Chiminya and Mabika as I was one of the few eye witnesses. Having written the statement, I was taken aside by one Donald Chiringa who was working in the office that time. As we chatted towards the exit doors I noticed two middle aged man sitting gingerly and sheepishly by the door. Donny asked if I knew them of which i answered in the negative. Then in a whisper he said ‘Ndo vakomana vekuuraya Chiminya vaina Mwale ka ava’ (These are the guys who killed Chiminya in cohort with Mwale).I went very cold, and shocked . I had not anticipated this encounter. Confusion reigned and I did not know what to say. As we approached them i tried looking them in the eyes, trying to understand if they understood what they had done. Then we stopped, greeted them, and then moved off. If they knew me, they didn’t let it out. The meeting was brief.
Ghandi Mudzingwa, an advisor and PA to the MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai had hinted to me about this development. I remember it was in May 2000 when president Tsvangirai addressed a rally at Chiwetu Shopping centre in Makoni West constituency near Rusape.Ghandi had taken me aside and told me latest developments were that some of the people who had participated in the murder of Chiminya were now hallucinating in broad day light in Buhera. In addition, two former ZANU PF youth members who had been part of the group that attacked us had defected. One was Itai Mudzingwa (now late) and the other whom I shall call X because of security reasons. Apparently they had not been paid what they were promised to partake in the gruesome murders and decided to defect and spill the beans. These are the same guys I had just met in our office. Murderers!…For me the most difficult part was the reason why they had defected. It was not sorrow, remorse, guiltiness or the realisation they had committed a serious crime. They just had not got what they expected or had been promised. Money.Blood money.
I loathed these two individuals so much. However I also appreciated their cooperation and the risk they had taken by defecting. I would go on to work at the party HQ as National Youth Coordinator for almost four years. I would meet these guys nearly every day of the week as they became permanently present in Harare since their defection. Our relationship was cold, just the simple greeting. I never developed the courage to ask them why.
In the Aljazeera documentary I cited above, when Gerardo encountered Simon, his torturer, he did not jump and scream at him. He was remarkably civil and they exchanged greetings so cordially that you would think they were long lost friends. Initially Simon was arrogant and tried to deny he tortured Gerardo. He would throw back all allegations. Later he would admit his role but then defensively argued he was following instructions, or that whatever he did, it was above board, nothing personal. However Gerardo shows amazing skill, probing Simon and reminding him he raped and sodomised him. In the end, it gets to Simon, he becomes emotional and sobs. Then you realise these arrogant bastards are cowards after all, They are human! ‘You did not break me’, says Gerardo. ‘You actually made me stronger’.
It is important to note how in this case the traditional justice model is complemented by restorative justice principles in the deliverance of peace, justice and reconciliation. Simon was in jail awaiting prosecution. Gerardo was a victim actively seeking closure and justice. When the time comes for truth and reconciliation in Zimbabwe, we have a lot to learn from this case study.
How I wish all victims of torture, rape and other gross violations would be afforded the opportunity one day to face those who violated them and seek answers for closure. One of the major short comings of the Zimbabwean justice system is the negated and reduced role victims play in the justice system. It seems they are only important as state witnesses and after that their input is minimal. It is prudent that victim’s voices be heard especially in seeking to make sure the offender understands how their actions impacted on the victim. This aspect of restorative justice aids closure in victims and helps develop a sense of parity. I have witnessed the impact of victim statements during sentencing here in the UK court system and how most times offenders come to terms with evidence of how their actions affected individuals and communities. Then the victim is not just a statistic or an abstract identity. The victim is a person, a human being.
Chiminya left a young family and today would have been proud to see how Faith and Brighton have progressed. More importantly Fay and Bee would want to know from Mwale why he took their father in such a callous and barbaric manner.