Lephalale resident’s experience in Zim prison

LEPHALALE — On Friday 10 November, 22 activists were arrested in Zimbabwe while visiting the diamond mining town of Marange.
The foreign nationals in Zimbabwe were accused of entering a prohibited area before being detained in the central police station in Mutare, 270 km from the capital Harare.
Only one of them is a Zimbabwean native while the majority are from Latin America and Southern Africa.
Among the arrested activists is Thabo Raliwedzha, currently a resident of Lephalale.
Raliwedzha, aged 31, is the Chairperson of Lephalale Community Justice Movement and member of Waterberg Environmental Justice Forum (WEJF).
He shared his experience with Mogol Post after their release from prison on Saturday and a Z$100 fine.
“Our trip was part of a workshop for us to note the challenges people of Marange face. It was a tough trip right from the beginning as the conditions in Zimbabwe are bad and their soldiers kept stopping us on the road to ask questions,” said Raliwezdha.
On Friday they went to see the local Chief in Marange, who shared his frustration with them regarding the mining activities that do not benefit his community.
“We anticipated an uncomfortable experience. As soon as we went to the shops a big truck carrying soldiers armed with assault rifles approached us. They told us we had entered an area without permits; when we asked them to show us a sign notifying us of this restriction they took us from pillar to post.”
He says they were told they were being taken in for questioning at a roadblock site and on their way back they saw a police van carrying other activists.
“We were all squeezed in our minibus quantum taxi that we used from South Africa, 28 in number and soon as they removed the driver from his seat and replaced him with one of the police officers we knew we were arrested,” he said.
According to Raliwedzha the treatment they received from the Zimbabwean Law Enforcement was inhuman and it seemed that they wanted to punish them.
“Our prison cell was very small and occupied by approximately 30 people, including other Zimbabwean prisoners who had been detained before we arrived.
The conditions are despicable, and the sanitation system is very peculiar as after using the toilet one has to wait for officers to flush it from the outside.”
Asked if, together with other activists, they will return to Zimbabwe for activism purposes, he said they await the lawyer’s advice on that as a team.
The activists were released on Saturday 11 November after pleading guilty to entering prohibited area without permission, paying the Z$100. They await to hear if they have a criminal record registered in their names.
This week, People’s Dialogue, an organisation that arranged this trip issued a statement on the matter which read: “We remain concerned about the situation of our Zimbabwean partners who daily face the kind of repression and harassment that was experienced during this exchange visit.
“We are also worried about the implications of all the international attention that the arrest of PD delegation raised might have as this might lead to further retribution against our Zimbabwe partners.
In the context of sharp and intense conflicts over mining, the objective of the exchange visit was to understand the role of artisanal mining and whether it offers any alternative to the looting of the multinational mining companies in our countries.
Furthermore, the exchange visit was also exploring and sharing ideas of how artisanal mining was organised and what its role could be in resource nationalism. We selected Zimbabwe because over one million people are involved in artisanal mining.”
The organisation says they remain concerned about the well-being and safety of their Zimbabwean partner Centre for Natural Resource Governance who “fearlessly resist the looting and dispossession of poor people by the extractive sector.”

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