Ex­e­cu­tions left, right and cen­tre


This week, Fa­ther Em­manuel Ribeiro con­tin­ues with his ac­count of the hor­ros he saw in the Rhode­sian pri­son sys­tem. In this con­ver­sa­tion with The Sun­day Mail Deputy News Ed­i­tor, Fr Ribeiro talks about how Ian Smith’s pris­ons were noth­ing short of slaugh­ter­houses. Fr Ribeiro: You find a per­son com­ing to Harare Cen­tral Pri­son from Chivhu, Chin­hoyi or Bin­dura al­ready con­demned to death. Chivhu did not have a pre­sid­ing judge, Chin­hoyi did not have a pre­sid­ing judge. These pris­on­ers can­not be con­demned to death by a mag­is­trate, no. You can­not have a per­son com­ing from Mu­toko al­ready con­demned to death. The jus­tice sys­tem had not spread to pro­vide judges in such ar­eas for this to hap­pen. There was the ex­pla­na­tion that con­demned to death by a spe­cial court. Spe­cial Court? What does spe­cial court mean, who is pre­sid­ing? Is it a judge? Is it the army? Is it the po­lice? Is it a mag­is­trate? What is a spe­cial court and who has fa­cil­i­tated it? These peo­ple sen­tenced to death were said to have gone through the so-called spe­cial courts. Q: How did the sit­u­a­tion end up be­ing

like that, what is the ex­pla­na­tion? A: The logic be­hind this is that the Smith regime had gone into des­per­a­tion and would carry out all the unimag­i­nary things. They were killing peo­ple left right and cen­tre, they were killing peo­ple in masses. Those that were brought to pri­son were to jus­tify to the world that they have been to the courts. The Smith regime’s goal was that of elim­i­na­tion of lib­er­a­tion fight­ers. Maybe one out of 30 or 40 is the one sent to pri­son but the 29 or 39 were dis­posed else­where; ei­ther be­ing burnt, thrown into pits or mine shafts. So the pri­son ex­e­cu­tions were just to try and give le­git­i­macy that the pro­cesses to deal with the so-called trou­ble causers were be­ing done, that there was no hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion. But in fact, mass killings were go­ing

on. At Goromonzi it was a killing ma­chine; at Bin­dura it was a killing ma­chine; at Harare Cen­tral Pri­son it was a killing ma­chine. To show that some peo­ple were just hounded, I had a case of one young man again who was sen­tenced to hang­ing, but I man­aged to as­sist him get re­leased. His name was Everisto and I for­get

his sur­name. When he was re­leased he straight away lost his mind. I made sure he was ac­com­mo­dated in the pri­son for some­time as no one knew where he had come from. There were no records of his place ori­gin. Af­ter a while he be­gan to get back to his senses. I con­stantly asked him where he came from. One day he gave men­tion of a place in Mab­vuku. I took a test and drove him to the area and for­tu­nately when I got to a fam­ily I knew, Everisto quickly knew one of the boys there. From there we went to his home. I parked at a dis­tance, try­ing to see if the young man knew where he was. When his mother saw him, she col­lapsed be­cause she didn’t know where her son had been all along. So you had peo­ple go­ing miss­ing and be­ing ex­e­cuted and up to now that is why we have cases of rel­a­tives who say we last saw so-and-so in the 1970s and there has never been a trace of him or her. Q: These ex­e­cu­tions, or killings, how were the ac­tu­ally done? What was the process? A: The de­ci­sions to ex­e­cute the pris­on­ers came from the Min­istry of Jus­tice. As the chap­lain we al­ways knew that any day we would have these deaths. The ex­e­cu­tions took place at least twice a week. At times up to four peo­ple were killed in one week. But the pri­son au­thor­i­ties only knew when they got a let­ter from the Min­istry of Jus­tice that one or two are go­ing to be ex­e­cuted. It was the Sec­re­tary for Jus­tice who

came. The chap­lain would be told that so and so will be ex­e­cuted. He would go and pray with the vic­tims, af­ter which the au­thor­i­ties lead them to the ex­e­cu­tion cham­ber. The top hi­er­ar­chy of the pris­ons in­clud­ing the Com­mis­sioner of Pris­ons would be present. The sec­re­tary came with his team and he would sign pa­pers that the per­son is dead. The pri­son au­thor­i­ties would just wit­ness. The doc­tor was brought in, but it was the sec­re­tary who had the over­all say. Again, the per­son would hang there for 20 to 30 min­utes be­cause it takes time for one to die with a noose. It was like lynching by the Amer­i­cans, it is ex­actly the same. It was meant to cause pain. Q: Who con­ducted the hang­ings? A: They hired an ex­e­cu­tioner. That is why for a long time even af­ter In­de­pen­dence no one wants to do it. Back then, they would ad­ver­tise the job and peo­ple would come to do the job. There were about three or four white ex­e­cu­tion­ers. I re­mem­ber one came and did it once and said “I can’t con­tinue” be­cause he had hanged about four pris­on­ers in one ses­sion. Ac­cord­ing to law, once the hang­ing pro­cesses fails a per­son is freed, but dur­ing my time it was 100 per­cent.

Like I said, they would leave the vic­tim to hang for 20 to 30 min­utes so def­i­nitely the pris­on­ers would die. I would be there as the fa­ther of these pris­on­ers, and it is dif­fi­cult to say how I feel. And maybe the ex­pla­na­tion that I would give is that if you are a fa­ther or mother and you are stand­ing be­fore your child be­ing ex­e­cuted and you can­not do any­thing, how will that go down with you? That is the ex­pla­na­tion to the widely

asked dumb ques­tion of how I felt. And this is not just one case, but for more than 10 years, that was my life. For us, these were our chil­dren. You see, the pris­on­ers were not ex­e­cuted through shoot­ing or the in­jec­tion, which is faster, but they used the noose. When you had four, five peo­ple who were be­ing hanged, you take them and bury them or see them be­ing burnt. For one to ask how you felt re­ally is in­sen­si­tive. Or you see your mother be­ing burnt, and one asks how did you feel? There are cer­tain things that are self-ex­plana­tory. That is why you find soldiers be­ing de­sen­si­tised be­cause most of them kill peo­ple and some­times they have to carry their dead col­leagues. So when they re­turn, you need to do a lot of work on them, some of them end up killing their wives, some end up com­mit­ting sui­cide and some end up vagabonds. When you live in that sit­u­a­tion of tragedy af­ter tragedy, you try as much as you can to con­tain your­self, but you can­not. You can­not run away be­cause if you

run away what have you achieved? You are the only per­son they are re­ly­ing on for pro­tec­tion. You are the only per­son they can talk to and if you give up, if you run away, then what. Those are some of the tragedies that when a per­son lives in glass house can­not un­der­stand. When you are deep in that tragedy, you be­come part of it. I talked and lived with these peo­ple and be­came a fam­ily, but all of a sud­den one is gone. These are the tragedies that I fail to put words to. That is why some­times you put those feel­ings into a song be­cause spo­ken words can­not carry them. It doesn’t mat­ter how you paint it, you can­not carry it, you can­not, you can­not carry that brute you wit­ness against your own. Q: And what hap­pened to the bod­ies? A: The ceme­tery that they claim has the re­mains of the pris­on­ers at Chiku­rubi Max­i­mum Pri­son ac­tu­ally is a de­coy. It has noth­ing. It is fake. The pris­on­ers are buried in the farm. As one gets into the pri­son farm

and af­ter cross­ing a river, there is a maize field on the right. The pris­on­ers are buried in the maize field. Then there is the cre­ma­to­rium which was built in 1977 and started op­er­at­ing in 1978. Be­cause of the sheer num­ber of pris­on­ers that were be­ing ex­e­cuted around 1975 and 1976 as the war thick­ened, it was seen nec­es­sary to build a new cre­ma­to­rium. So the pris­on­ers be­gan con­struct­ing the new one which started be­ing used in 1978. I say since 1976 the cre­ma­to­rium be­came use­ful be­cause this was the height of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle and peo­ple were be­ing ex­e­cuted in high num­bers. There was need to burn the bod­ies. Some were just com­ing for the cre­ma­tions from places un­known. So, af­ter 1976 peo­ple were be­ing burnt af­ter ex­e­cu­tions. Q: You men­tioned the is­sue of pris­on­ers whose sen­tences were com­muted to nat­u­ral life for a pe­riod of about three years. Does this mean the ex­e­cu­tions had stopped? What was hap­pen­ing? A: At that time we thought noth­ing was hap­pen­ing. As I said be­fore, pris­on­ers would come in dif­fer­ent classes. Some would come and be housed in D-Hole. This is where we had the per­sons con­demned to death. We had al­most three years of si­lence or there years of quiet­ness. What I am try­ing to say is that the as­sump­tion is there were no ex­e­cu­tions. The last ex­e­cu­tions had taken place in March 1968. On 6 March, James David Ncedile Dh­lamini, Vic­tor Mlambo and Duly Shadreck, who were part of the Crocodile Gang were ex­e­cuted. On 11 March 1968 we wit­nessed the ex­e­cu­tions of Jeremiah Chakau­raya and Kanzisi Chirisa Chimu­soro, who were both aged 26 and had been sen­tenced for mur­der. From that pe­riod, it was si­lence, there were no “ex­e­cu­tions” un­til 15 Septem­ber 1972 when a Julius and El­liot, whose sur­names were not pro­vide, met their fate in the gal­lows. It was when I left the pris­ons that I started re­flect­ing on this era, 1968 to 1971. This era saw the pris­on­ers hav­ing their death sen­tence be­ing com­muted to nat­u­ral life, which meant they had been spared the hang­man’s noose. But go­ing through the pris­on­ers list, there is Em­manuel Motsi Nyan­doro. His name comes up be­cause he is one who came from a unit linked to the Seven He­roes of Chin­hoyi. Nyan­doro had his sen­tenced com­muted to nat­u­ral life. This cat­e­gory of pris­on­ers meant they should die in pri­son and from nat­u­ral causes. But I know he was ex­e­cuted be­cause Fa­ther Ribeiro I was there dur­ing the ex­e­cu­tion. There is Everisto Mu­ruri, he is also one brought in as a mu­jib­hha in the Gum­bochuma group. Again I know he had his sen­tence com­muted to nat­u­ral life, but I also saw him be­ing ex­e­cuted. Q: The Gum­bochuma group, can you

tell us more about them? A: The Noah Gum­bochuma group was a unit sim­i­lar to the Chin­hoyi Seven. You see, there was the group in Chin­hoyi, known to­day as the Seven He­roes of Chin­hoyi, but there were other groups, in Harare and other lo­ca­tions coun­try­wide. For ex­am­ple the Chig­wada group that was cap­tured in Mutare with a mis­sion to blow up the Feruka pipe­line. All these were un­der one mis­sion but with dif­fer­ent tar­gets. The Gum­bochuma group had the likes of Em­manuel Motsi Nyan­doro and Chi­hota. Their mis­sion or tar­get was Sikombela Re­stric­tion Cen­tre where they were sup­posed to re­lease na­tion­al­ists re­stricted there. Nyan­doro was cap­tured and ac­cused of killing whites and had his death sen­tenced com­muted to nat­u­ral life, but he was ex­e­cuted. What was hap­pen­ing? What was hap­pen­ing to the Guer­ril­las? There is also Si­mon Cho­mombe, I was present at his ex­e­cu­tion but he is among those whose death sen­tenced had been com­muted to nat­u­ral life. Peo­ple were be­ing elim­i­nated de­spite be­ing cat­e­gorised as sup­posed to die nat­u­rally in pri­son. We had the Spe­cial Branch com­ing to pri­son, but they did not come to us. They went to ad­min­is­tra­tion and it ended there. They could ob­tain au­thor­ity to take some pris­on­ers out for fur­ther ques­tion­ing on some other crime. Whether they would go on and elim­i­nate them or what is an­other thing be­cause they would have singed them out. The pe­riod 1968 to 1972 is a pe­riod that is not in­ter­rupted. We had pris­on­ers com­ing in but we do not see them go­ing out. There are no for­mal re­ports to say they have been ex­e­cuted. Their sen­tences are com­muted to life, but we do not see where they go. So this is a pe­riod I am say­ing if there are any peo­ple whose sen­tence was com­muted to life then and to­day are still liv­ing, come for­ward and say “here I am”. I am say­ing their rel­a­tives must say they left pri­son and are in such and such a place or buried at such a place.

◆ To be con­tin­ued next week

The above list de­picts the last ex­e­cu­tions in 1968 be­fore all pris­on­ers were “com­muted to nat­u­ral life” for four years and ex­e­cu­tions re­sumed in 1972.

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