HARARE – Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife Elizabeth was yesterday refused entry into Chikurubi Maximum Prison until she offered to walk two kilometres from the security check-point.
Tsvangirai’s wife was leading a group of ministers and aides on a morale-boosting visit to the 29 MDC activists currently on trial for the May 2011 murder of police inspector Petros Mutedza.
A 40-minute standoff between MDC ministers Theresa Makone (Home Affairs), Obert Gutu (deputy minister Justice), Murisi Zwizwai (deputy minister Information) and Senator Morgan Femai ensued with officials demanding a letter of clearance.
Zwizwai claimed they had made two applications in the morning.
“We made two formal applications to visit this morning and permission was granted. Mai Tsvangirai is at the top of that list because she is leading the delegation.
“Now they are telling us all other people except the PM’s wife can go in. It is like saying a wedding can go ahead without the bride. It is shocking really,” Zwizwai said.
Makone was fuming.
“Do you think you would be doing this if it was (Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick) Chinamasa or (Co-Home Affairs minister Kembo) Mohadi? This is a clear sign that we need to change things and the way this country is governed,” said a visibly angry Makone.
Elizabeth also intermittently chipped in, pleading to be let in.
“Do not treat me like Tsvangirai or a government official. Ndingori munhuwo zvake (I am just an ordinary citizen. I can walk),” pleaded Elizabeth asking her aides to get flat shoes.
Following consultations with senior prison officials, the clearance that the ministers claimed had been sought and granted in the morning was confirmed but still the officials argued the group could not drive into the jail.
That was when Elizabeth graciously offered to walk the remaining two kilometres but on realising there were reporters, the unidentified officer commanding Chikurubi Prison then somersaulted, letting the group drive in.
After eventually passing through the first two security check-points, another 20-minute delay awaited the entourage but the PM’s wife seemed even more determined.
“They will not break my spirit. Some of us are not used to protocol and this idea of being treated as officials. I can make do with being ordinary and I will definitely come back,” said Elizabeth.
After an hour, the group was finally allowed to meet the three men and five female inmates at the main prison, all of whom seemed to have their spirits raised by the arrival of the PM’s wife.
Youth leader Solomon Madzore chanted the party slogan before thanking Elizabeth.
“We are honoured. Thank you very much, our message is very clear, the struggle continues. We remain unshaken,” he said.
The “Innocent 29” as they are calling themselves, have been broken up into three groups.
The bigger group of 20 is being held at Harare Remand Prison, four women at Chikurubi Women Prison with the main jail holding Madzore and two other men plus Rebecca Mafikeni and Yvonne Musarurwa.
Elizabeth visited all three places praying before leaving and encouraging the detainees to remain hopeful.
“God knows. He is in charge and you should not grow weary. The finishing line is in sight and soon you will be out,” said Elizabeth.
While the PM’s wife went through hell to get into Chikurubi, and finally handing over the goodies she had brought to the inmates, it took less than 10 minutes to secure entry into the Harare Remand Prison. But the food for the inmates was turned away.
“This is a different place; we do not allow cooked food because we will not be able to contain a disease outbreak,” the officer in charge said.
“You remember that cholera outbreak, it started here and we have a letter from the ministry of Health to make sure we are on top of the situation on health matters.
“We have positive cases of typhoid at the moment so bringing in food will exacerbate the situation. I must be able to control these people.”
After the two-and-half-hour ordeal, Elizabeth declined to speak to the media.
“I am not going to say anything,” she said.