Devil­ish slaugh­ter­houses of the 1970s


Dur­ing Zim­babwe’s strug­gle for In­de­pen­dence, the set­tler regime im­pris­oned count­less peo­ple sus­pected to be aligned to lib­er­a­tion fight­ers. Pris­ons be­came slaugh­ter houses for blacks. Be­tween 1969 and 1979, Ro­man Catholic priest, Fa­ther Em­manuel Ribeiro, was Chap­lain-Gen­eral of Pris­ons, Army and Po­lice. He wit­nessed first-hand Ian Smith’s killing ma­chine. Peo­ple were hanged, buried or burnt; most of them with­out even a pre­tence of go­ing through the jus­tice sys­tem. This week we pub­lish the first part of a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween The Sun­day Mail’s Deputy News Ed­i­tor Levi Mukarati and Fr Ribeiro, in which the lat­ter nar­rates the hor­rors he wit­nessed at Harare Cen­tral Prison.

Q: Can you tell us how you ended up chap­lain dur­ing the Ian Smith era?

A: A lit­tle bit about my­self: 1968, I was here at St Mary’s Old High­field Ro­man Catholic Church in High­field. The Arch­bishop of Sal­is­bury, Fran­cis Markall asked if I could vol­un­teer to be chap­lain of the pris­ons and I said I could do that. That also en­tailed I would be chap­lain of pris­ons, po­lice and the army. The po­lice, pris­ons and the army did not have African chap­lains to be ex­act. Chap­lains then were all white. So that was the be­gin­ning. It was my­self, Ed­ward Mun­y­atwa, Rev­erend Isiah Mapon­dera and Madan­gure Moyo. We were brought in as of­fi­cers. By us­ing the word “of­fi­cer” it means we were of the rank of white peo­ple. Back then, the black war­dens, it didn’t mat­ter if he is sergeant or what, the white of­fi­cer who was be­low his rank would not salute him. We were of­fi­cers with one bar at first but we went up very quickly and I ended up as Chap­lain-Gen­eral. So even whites be­low me would salute be­cause I had be­come a very se­nior of­fi­cer. That be­came my ad­van­tage. I could make cer­tain de­ci­sions or in­flu­ence how the pris­on­ers were treated. It is un­for­tu­nate that three of my col­leagues with whom I worked with are now late. This has mo­ti­vated me to un­earth some of the things that were hap­pen­ing in prison, par­tic­u­larly the ex­e­cu­tions be­tween 1962 and 1979 dur­ing the Ian Smith era. Ex­e­cu­tions had been tak­ing place, but this pe­riod was marked by an in­crease in di­rect up­ris­ing of the blacks as they sought to fight colo­nial rule.

Q: How was the prison set up like then?

A: The prison had four dis­tinct fa­cil­i­ties. It had a de­tainees sec­tion that was sep­a­rate for po­lit­i­cal de­tainees. These were peo­ple de­tained for their po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence. We had the likes of Tekere, Muzenda, Mu­gabe, Enos Nkala and so forth, who were pop­u­lar fig­ures, de­tained there. These we dealt with them, we vis­ited them and we catered for them. We catered for their ed­u­ca­tion, we as­sisted these na­tion­al­ists with books and at times fa­cil­i­tated com­mu­ni­ca­tion with their fam­i­lies. Then there was the white group of pris­on­ers. They had their own area and (it was) a bit smart. They had their own kitchen, own staff. And I should say the Ja­panese were also placed in this group of whites. Again we would go and see them, pray with them. Then there were the Chi­nese, In­di­ans and Coloureds. Their fa­cil­i­ties again were a bit mod­est, but not like the ones for the whites. The whites were a top class. We also dealt with this group. Af­ter all these groups came the mob, the gen­eral, black peo­ple. In prison there are classes. You see a pris­oner marked A or clas­si­fied as A, these are those peo­ple jailed for small cases such as pub­lic fight­ing or some­thing sim­ple. You have the B class and these are small crim­i­nals, those again are small cases. You see A/Y, these are ha­bit­ual crim­i­nal. These ones usu­ally when re­leased, you see them back in prison within a short space of time af­ter hav­ing com­mit­ted an­other crime. Then there is the D class. These were locked up 24 hours. They would get just about one hour each day to go out­side. So ev­ery week we would say, where do I go and draft our pro­gramme to say I am go­ing here and there on such dates. But the D hole or the con­demned or D sec­tion was a pri­or­ity be­cause this is where we felt there was need be­cause the pris­on­ers were al­ways bro­ken down. You can imag­ine the sup­port one needs es­pe­cially if he or she knows she will die any­time. These do not do any work, they just wait for their time to die in a tiny cell with one or two blan­kets, a small bucket to ex­crete in and their clothes nicely folded out­side the cell door.

Q: Since you men­tioned the D class and that they were the ones tar­geted to die, may you shed light on these ex­e­cu­tions. Who was ex­e­cuted and for what rea­son?

A: A back­ground or the start to this is that in 1964, Ian Smith de­cided on the no­tion of per­sonal prop­erty. This was af­ter two young men, Al­bert Ncube and Is­sac Mpofu, who had been in prison from 1962 were ex­e­cuted on the 17th of July 1964. Both were ex­e­cuted on the same day and their bod­ies put in bags be­fore be­ing brought to Mbare. These bod­ies, as we speak, are buried at the Beatrice Cot­tages Ceme­tery. But the man­ner in which these bod­ies were de­liv­ered and peo­ple hav­ing learnt that they had been ex­e­cuted, caused an up­roar from those who stayed in Mbare and High­field. These were the ma­jor town­ships then. As a re­sult of the up­roar, the army was brought in by the white govern­ment to deal with these black peo­ple. About 10 peo­ple were shot dead. That is when the Smith regime de­clared that all ex­e­cu­tions to fol­low will be pri­vate and fam­i­lies of those ex­e­cuted would not be told or in­volved. Once one was sen­tenced to death, he or she be­came the state’s pri­vate prop­erty. I want to un­der­score or un­der­line the word “sen­tenced” be­cause as you will later see, there were ques­tions as to whether these peo­ple were sen­tenced or just brought in to be killed. So from that time up to 1979, all the ex­e­cu­tions then be­came pri­vate.

Q: It ap­pears, from your nar­ra­tive, the sys­tem was func­tional. Where then do we draw prob­lems with these ex­e­cu­tions?

A: We can­not call them proper ex­e­cu­tions as por­trayed by the sys­tem. In fact, they were slaugh­ters, peo­ple op­posed to the white rule were be­ing brought in for killing. It was elim­i­na­tion. The blacks, in the eyes of the whites Rhode­sians, had to be wiped out.

Q: Can you please put weight to your claim, why do you de­scribe them as such con­sid­er­ing these peo­ple would have been tried and sen­tenced?

A: An im­por­tant area that both­ers me and that has led me to do fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion is that dur­ing my days in ser­vice, I knew of cer­tain peo­ple whose death sen­tence is said had been “com­muted to nat­u­ral life”. These peo­ple were in prison but I did not see them go­ing out, dead or just be­ing re­leased. What hap­pened to them? I would like to deal with it later by it­self. But in gen­eral, we had about 50 peo­ple who are re­ported as hav­ing their death sen­tences “com­muted to nat­u­ral life”. You see them com­ing into prison, but you do not see them go­ing out, ei­ther walk­ing or see bod­ies af­ter be­ing ex­e­cuted. I would like to point out that three com­rades - Vic­tor Mlambo, James Dh­lamini and Duly Shadreck - were ex­e­cuted in­spite of a re­prieve by the Queen. They were the sec­ond group to be ex­e­cuted un­der the Law and Or­der Main­te­nance Act. They were ex­e­cuted and buried in Sal­is­bury Cen­tral Prison. The first Group was Al­bert Ncube and Is­sac Man­gena in 1964, but they do not ap­pear in Pris­ons records. The other phase of ex­e­cu­tion of com­rades was from 18 April 1975 to Septem­ber 1977. Jailed lib­er­a­tion fight­ers were cre­mated in a cham­ber made in the prison work­shop. The pris­on­ers who made it did not even know what this cham­ber was go­ing to be used for. The last phase be­gan from 1978 to the end

1979. The fur­nace was de­signed to con­sume large num­bers of bod­ies within min­utes and nine com­rades were used to test its ef­fi­ciency. These com­rades are not re­flected in the prison records. To­wards the end of 1979, 30 com­rades were ex­e­cuted and cre­mated on the same day. There is no record. These young com­rades were sent to the gal­lows for un­der­go­ing a course of guer­rilla train­ing, re­cruit­ing or en­cour­ag­ing other per­sons to go for mil­i­tary train­ing, pos­ses­sion of weapons of war, ar­son, sab­o­tage, bomb at­tack, lay­ing land mines, and other acts of guer­rilla war­fare. Oth­ers were killed for pro­vid­ing food, shel­ter, or other forms of as­sis­tance to guer­ril­las; fail­ing to re­port the pres­ence of guer­rilla to the au­thor­i­ties with in spec­i­fied time. Many free­dom fight­ers were sum­mar­ily ex­e­cuted. They never reached the courts. Many more were mass torched to death. Those who reached the courts were used as a gim­mick, to try and show the coun­try at large that ev­ery­thing was done above board. The death sen­tence was used both as a de­ter­rent and as pun­ish­ment for those young peo­ple who gave up their lives to lib­er­ate their coun­try. Among these are two who are part of the seven he­roes of Chin­hoyi. These are Em­manuel Motsi who came to­gether with Everisto Mu­ruri. But in­ter­est­ingly they were al­leged to have killed Hen­dricks and Bar­bara Vil­jeon in Gadzema in Hart­ley. These two I know they were ex­e­cuted be­cause I was there, but they are un­der the group “com­muted to nat­u­ral life”. So what hap­pened? I was there and that is how the set­tler regime dealt with “problematic” per­sons - elim­i­na­tion. Peo­ple were butchered, slaugh­tered just to get rid of them. There is a child of 12 years, Eli Hagea Bonde Lameck Wandiyao, sen­tenced to death. A 17 year old Spi­don Ku­fun­duka Sam Konke, 18-year-olds Cuth­bert Phiri, John Mu­tauro, Kanita Robert To­bias, Ig­na­tious Mote, Ra­zor Nya­marupa, Wil­liam Chigombe, Sande Ben­son, Mosses Tom Jaure, Nai­son Dh­li­wayo, Reuben Donga. And 19-yearolds River Peter Chimunondo, Jaf­frey Pon­dayi Munetsi, Rek­isi Pik­iti Ncube, Po­nias Shava, Neg­tory Chikun­guru, Stau­ros Tswayo, Tafirei Kanyama and oth­ers who were ex­e­cuted. 20-year-olds be­ing ex­e­cuted? These were mur­ders go­ing on un­der a sys­tem that does not pre­scribe a death sen­tence on any­one be­low 21 years. You also ask your­self who was the judge that handed over the sen­tence? Again that in­for­ma­tion is vague. You get cases that the sen­tence was handed down in Chivhu, but there was no judge there. Bin­dura, Chegutu, there were no judges there, but some­one comes from there al­ready sen­tenced to death. What is hap­pen­ing? Is it a mil­i­tary court, junta or spe­cial court? ◆ To be con­tin­ued next week

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