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