A journalist runs for his life
The persecution of independent Zimbabwean journalists is hotting up by the day. The latest victim is a friend and one-time colleague of mine. I shall call him Brian. For some years Brian has supplied western and local media with revealing and accurate news about the evils of the Mugabe regime. This is his story:
Things began to go bad for me back in May. I received a call from a police superintendent, a friend of mine based in my home town of Bulawayo. He warned me not to enter any police premises. He told me an order had been issued to the Police Internal Security Intelligence (PISI) to have me arrested on trumped-up charges of theft of police property.
He said: "You will be arrested and beaten until you admit the charges. You will also be taken into custody if you are seen covering a public demonstration. They will say you were a part of it."
Some time later I received a call from another police contact, a superintendent in Harare. He told me my name was now on a top ten hit list, issued by the Joint Operations Command (JOC) to all squads.
My source told me: "They've been told not to waste time arresting you. Just abduct you and beat you to death. You must lie very low for now."
Then yet another source told me that a Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) squad of two men and a woman had been despatched from Harare to find and abduct me.
Soon after that friends began telling me that strangers were asking questions about my movements - where I hung out, which internet cafes I used, even where I sat when watching football matches.
Then I began receiving strange calls on my cell phone. The callers promised me a major scoop about the attempted assassination of a top Mugabe man, if I would agree to a meeting. I wasn't tempted.
Finally my best friend, who is also a CIO agent, called me. He said he had been given the job of pinning me down, and would phone my house later that day to officially check that I was there. He told me to make sure my wife answered the phone. She should pretend to be in tears, with a story that I had been abducted in an unmarked vehicle just hours before.
This my wife did, very convincingly. But I knew it was time to go into hiding. I sent my family to a rural area, and lived with friends, frequently changing addresses. I also visited some traditional faith healers in Bulawayo. They all told me I was in danger, and gave me concoctions to repel any assailants.
One said to me: "You are to be killed tonight. Do not return to where you are staying. Your friend there has betrayed you."
(He was correct. Later I spoke to the friend, who told me he had been beaten until he admitted that I was staying with him.)
It was clearly time to go. Next day I boarded a minibus and headed for the border with Botswana. Amazingly, actually leaving Zimbabwe was no problem. I passed through all controls easily. Apparently even in over-policed Zimbabwe the left hand still doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
My wife and family have now joined me in Botswana, and soon we hope to move on to South Africa. I may not be able to live in my own country any more. But I hope we can all live without fear soon.