Makomborero Haruzivishe spent nearly a year behind bars for what he says are false charges of inciting public violence
Activist Makomborero Haruzivishe spent nearly a year in prison for what he says are false charges of inciting public violence | Photo by Kovedzayi Takawira

Zimbabwean political activist recounts time behind bars

Makomborero Haruzivishe
Interview Subject
Makomborero Haruzivishe is a Zimbabwean political activist who has been previously imprisoned dozens of times for days or sometimes weeks on various charges related to his activism.

On Feb. 17, 2021, police arrested Makomborero for kidnapping, participating in a gathering with intent to commit public violence, and breaching peace or bigotry related to several incidents in 2020. He served nearly a year in prison before finally being released on bail in January 2022.

Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Background Information
According to the US Embassy in Zimbabwe’s 2021 Human Rights report, Zimbabwe has significant human rights issues, including credible reports of torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention of political prisoners or detainees; serious political interference that undermined judicial independence; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; and widespread acts of corruption.

HARARE, Zimbabwe—Freedom is an innate desire of man, and I am no different; since I was a child I always wanted to be a freedom fighter. However, my fight for my rights led me to be imprisoned for nearly a year.

A lifetime of activism begins

I can trace my journey of activism back to Gokomere High School, where I attended secondary school. Most of my friends from primary school didn’t make it to that level—I had left them behind in the village. 

The first demonstration I ever organized was at Gokomere in 2008, protesting the bad food and conditions.

The constitution says that education is a right in Zimbabwe. However, when I went to the University of Zimbabwe in 2013 to study history, no academic grants or loans existed for those who needed them. That is what I fought for at university: the right to free education.

As someone who came from a small village to Harare to further his education, I understood the difficulties of paying school fees. That’s why we had to fight.

“I have been to hell and back”

Prison is hell, and now that I am released, I can say with certainty that I have been to hell and back.

I have been there many times for short periods, but this one lasted 11 months, 22 days. It was also the worst because I was a political prisoner, arrested for protesting the government—it was like living behind enemy lines. The prison guards beat us, and some belonged to the National Youth Service, funded by the ruling party, ZANU- PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front).

While imprisoned, I mobilized other prisoners to know their rights. I believe in people’s power; that’s why I decided to become an ambassador of hope, even behind bars.

Violence is everywhere in prison—many prisoners bear the marks of state brutality. Some have had their legs cut off, others have non-functional limbs. I smuggled in things like the Prisons Act, helping educate them that the law defines prisoner discipline as extra charges and punishments like loss of privileges or a longer sentence, not beatings.

When the guards were beating us, we had to come up with a protest plan every time we went to court. I told the other inmates: before a trial or hearing starts, get the attention of the judge or prosecutor, tell them you have been beaten and show them the injuries. This happened so often that the courts could not ignore it, and eventually the courts summoned prison officials to appear in court to answer for the abuse.

Enduring disgusting health and sanitary conditions

I am thankful every single hour and every single day that I survived prison in the time of COVID-19.

When I was a remand prisoner waiting for my trial, over 600 people shared a cell designed for 300. Everything was dirty, the food terrible, and the toilets clogged.

I also encountered a skin disease called pellagra. I always thought Kwashiorkor was the only disease associated with malnutrition, but this one is more like leprosy—people’s skin can burst open.

Medical care was pretty much nonexistent; there was not even acetaminophen (paracetamol). This isn’t too different from the outside world, but it was even worse in prison.  The most constant form of “medicine” was water, even for those who were in pain.

For me, prison was just a graveyard of dreams, a graveyard of hopes, and a graveyard of ambitions. Many of the inmates have lost hope, but I never did.

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Kovedzayi Takawira is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Harare, Zimbabwe.