By Nkosana Dlamini, Harare – HARARE – My colleague, freelance photo-journalist Andrissen Manyere and I were covering a public meeting at Hopley farm, on the outskirts of Harare when suddenly things turned out not the way we expected it.
The farm was seized from its white owner during Zimbabwe’s land grab, which brought thousands of President Robert Mugabe’s followers to settle in its neighbourhood.
The gathering was one of several events that call on ordinary Zimbabweans to give their views on the new constitution.
It was Saturday, just after noon. I had hardly started my interview with one Diana Nyikadzino whom I picked randomly from the crowd.
But the crowd of over a thousand participants was incensed that I was interviewing someone who had been contributing to “anti-government” views. Diana is an MDC youth.
The first person to attack us missed my face with a fist blow. Another one grabbed my shirt and I lost two buttons in the action. Then, I ducked a shoe that was hurled at me. I was not as swift to duck the second one which landed on my chest. I started to panic.
“Bullshit. We will not allow you ‘MDC people’ to bring homosexuality in this country. Today we are going to kill you.”
Some reached for my pockets. They took my notebook, voice recorder, cash, pen, digital camera, driver’s licence and accreditation card. In no time my pockets were empty.
They grabbed Manyere’s camera and ordered him to delete the footage.
Police made a wall to protect us while frantically appealing for calm. But the crowd had strong intentions to reach for us. I desperately appealed to the police to take us away faster. But there was no police car in sight and the dozen cops deployed looked overwhelmed.
I felt slightly relieved when a fellow victim said he had a pickup truck. But then we found ourselves being handcuffed and pushed onto the back of the truck. I screamed for my valuables while we are driven to the police station.
Police bosses, state agents and other strangers thronged the station. We were called one by one and questioned why we had “disrupted” the gathering. We were ordered to run the material we had recorded while my notebooks were perused page by page.
Meanwhile, a man was brought to the station with blood oozing from his head. He was stabbed minutes after we had left the place for contributing “wrong” views. No one was arrested.
We spent six hours in the station but they could not decide on what count to charge us. Next thing we heard is that we would be detained.
I had never slept in a police cell before. But I never imagined that would happen after committing “journalism”. We joined 20 inmates. The place was dirty and the blankets were smelly and lice infested. Saturday night was cold and long.
After spending 25 hours in custody, we were finally fined US$20 for being… a “criminal nuisance”.