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UZ Student Union Secretary Writes A Book About Her Experiences At Chikurubi Maximum Female Prison

5 months agoMon, 06 Nov 2023 06:30:46 GMT
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UZ Student Union Secretary Writes A Book About Her Experiences At Chikurubi Maximum Female Prison

Gamuchirai Chaburumunda, the Organising Secretary of the University of Zimbabwe Student Union, was arrested and sent to Chikurubi Maximum Female Prison for staging a demonstration on campus. She endured hardships during her month-long incarceration and is now writing a book about her experiences.

Chaburumunda, a third-year accounting and finance student, was arrested for protesting against the unjust imprisonment of lawyer and opposition leader Job Sikhala. She has been sharing pages of her book on a WhatsApp group as she writes. She said in an interview with University World News:

I started writing the book on the day of my release. The WhatsApp storytelling comes as a way to reach out to as many peers as possible since most of my generation have lost a reading culture. Almost everyone uses WhatsApp so, at least, the story can be told. The chapters on WhatsApp are just a glimpse of what’s to come in the book.

Fellow students and youth across the country have been really sympathetic but, most importantly, they are understanding why we need to take it upon ourselves as a generation to advocate for everyone’s rights, prisoners included.

Gamuchirai Chaburumunda
Gamuchirai Chaburumunda

The story shared on WhatsApp begins with Chaburumunda’s arrest on campus, which felt like a kidnapping. She was then taken to the Harare central police station, where she experienced further horrors. Chaburumunda believes she was targeted due to her role as a student leader and her influence on other students.

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In the police cells, she encountered dirty blankets infested with lice and two cement bunk beds. After spending a night there, she was taken to court and eventually transferred to Chikurubi Maximum Prison. Chaburumunda noticed many foreign women, especially from Malawi, who had been arrested while attempting to enter South Africa illegally.

Disturbingly, prisoners were sometimes forced to strip naked for searches, which deeply affected Chaburumunda emotionally. She also witnessed women detained with their children, some of whom were just months old. The older children attended a preschool within the prison. Chaburumunda emphasized that children struggled to cope with prison life, inappropriate language, and hygiene issues.

The prison conditions were harsh, with limited food and no amenities. Porridge without sugar or peanut butter was served in the mornings, and they occasionally received stale bread discarded by a local bakery. Sometimes, there were boot prints on the bread. Tea had no sugar or milk. Lunch consisted of boiled vegetables with minimal salt, as they were told salt affects sex hormones. Supper mostly comprised beans without onions or tomatoes.

The prisoners used pit latrines, had no running water or electricity, and the cells were always dark. They had no beds.

Tragically, death visited the prison, and a baby passed away. Pregnant women and nursing mothers had their own cells. Chaburumunda witnessed a mother desperately running to the clinic with her baby in hand, without shoes. Although the baby did not survive, the mother held onto hope, according to information shared by other inmates. She said:

The prison officers took the mother and baby to an office to wait for the nurse on duty to arrive. The nurse declared the baby dead. I don’t think the mom was given time to mourn. In fact, she was moved out of Cell Three to cells where mentally disturbed inmates stayed.

Chaburumunda believes that the Zimbabwean government targets students and subjects them to such difficult situations because they pose a threat. Student leaders are seen as young, intelligent, and courageous, which makes the regime feel insecure. The government fears that these fearless student leaders may go to extreme lengths in their fight for justice. Chaburumunda intends to address the persecution of students in her book to bring attention to this issue.

Human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama, who has represented students for many years, explains that these students are arrested on false charges. None of them have been convicted, highlighting the fact that they are unjustly detained. The state opposes bail, causing some students to miss their examinations.

Chaburumunda was fortunate as she was arrested on the last day of her exams. Muchadehama also observes a change in the way the police treat students. They are becoming increasingly harsh, especially towards women students. This suggests that there may be political pressure involved in targeting students. Muchadehama said:

It seems the police are acting under political pressure. The authorities want everyone to be quiet to give the impression that all is well in Zimbabwe. The shift to arresting female students is part of a political message that anyone who dares, ‘we will come for you.

Two years ago, Nancy Njenge, the former Gender Secretary of the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU), was arrested for protesting against the detention of fellow student leaders. She was then placed in a crowded and unsanitary cell where she contracted COVID-19. Since then, it seems that targeting women has become a strategy to discourage them from engaging in student activism.

In an interview with University World News, Njenge explained that the arrests of students have taken on a gender aspect as a means to prevent more women from participating in student activism. This strategy seems to be effective as it instils fear in other female students. Njenge emphasized that these arrests are a form of persecution and are meant to intimidate. The fear and vulnerability of women make them more susceptible to such tactics. Consequently, some students are reluctant to associate themselves with ZINASU and are afraid of the government’s actions.

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