The John Chimunhu International Letter|
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COMBATIVE: ‘Timveos’ Mpofu.
On Thursday, September 29 2016, three detectives from the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s notoriously brutal Central Investigations Department (CID) came to our house in Zvishavane where I was on special assignment investigating the horrific killing and dismemberment of a local MDC-T member allegedly by a fugitive man said to be linked to Midlands senator Lilian ‘Timveos’ Mpofu.
The moment the three of them walked in I knew this could only mean trouble.
“Do we know each other?” one of the cops said, sizing me up, menace in his voice.
“No,” I said.
“We are the police. We need you to accompany us to the police station,” one of the cops, who introduced himself as sergeant Mabwe, said. The others did not introduce themselves, making it difficult in future to file any possible charges against them.
Before we left, I asked what it was about this time. I have been arrested twelve times on assignment in Zimbabwe and each of those experiences left me traumatized, injured or both, one way or the other, which is the real intention of the state authorities here when they put you through the paces.
“It’s about a complaint from senator Timveous,” the cop said.
It struck me as odd that as 200 or more gwejas – illegal gold hunters – had taken siege of the government’s Sabi gold mine where they were hacking people to death with machetes and dumping their bodies in mine shafts, such senior cops could be deployed to hunt down an innocent journalist with no chance of hurting anyone in a thousand years. Exposing adultery, corruption and political scandals which damage the country’s difficult transition to democracy is entirely within our rights. If Zimbabwe is to transition from a banana republic despised by the entire universe it is fundamental that we get on the template of good governance, accountability and abiding by just rules and not hop from one hegemony to yet another brutal dictatorship.
Our coverage related to Senator Mpofu, known variously as Senator Timveos or Senator Timveous is not unique. The draft order says we must not publish “false statements on the alleged criminal, adultery and on the immoral activities”. We have no intention of publishing false statements about anyone and we are waiting anxiously for the High Court to announce the court date so that we can provide the evidence related to each of the stories under contention.
But no, Sen ‘Timveos’ Mpofu wants me to be punished. She wants me to suffer whichever way. She wrongly assumes that I am behind all the bad press she is getting from newspapers and websites as diverse as the Mirror and Shabanie Dot Coms, which first exposed her illegal Marange diamond deals and the Kandodo ‘ritual’ killing, respectively. So, she instigates my arrest to divert attention and assure her skeptical party associates and family members that I was behind all the ‘rumours’ about her. These are not just rumours. Selling parliament fuel coupons on the black market is called fraud, for which the senator would go to jail if we were in a more democratic dispensation. Selling state security and national health secrets to West African criminals when you are a member of parliament’s Peace and Security Committee and chair of a health committee is the height of treason. Registering yourself for accreditation at Parliament under a name other than the one appearing on your passport is clearly illegal. These are not “false statements”. Hiding behind the law will not absolve Sen ‘Timveos’ Mpofu.
Why did the Senator’s attorneys not raise the contempt issue as a point of objection when the trial begins, or make a special application to the High Court that the defendant is in breach of a lawful order?
‘Timveos’ Mpofu does not want justice. She wants to punish John Chimunhu, disrupt his work and ensure that there are no further leakages.
Later, one of my informants inside her camp told me to be “very careful”.
“Senator ‘Timveos’ has set up a ‘special team’ of detectives and others to ‘deal’ with you,” the informant said.
I was led to an unmarked car. Images of Itai Dzamara flashed through my mind. Was I being kidnapped, never to be seen again by family and friends, or to be found dumped somewhere with worms crawling out of my mouth? I had every reason to be alarmed. After all, none of these men in civilian clothes had shown me any form of identification or anything official to confirm that they were ‘dikaz’, the local equivalent of undercover ‘cop’.
We drove to the CID offices at Zvishavane police station. I noticed that the brown prefab wooden structures had not changed since the 1990s when I used to frequent the place scouring for news as the Chronicle’s then local correspondent. I remembered Chief Inspector John Mkhize, one of the most media-friendly cops I have met in my entire life. Mkhize was helpful, to the extent of visiting our farm once and – after assessing our security needs – recommending that I carry a firearm on the range to protect from marauding
I was led into an office where a man sat pensively at a desk, as if on the phone, but deep in thought. I sat on a bench. After a long silence the man greeted me.
There was a shuffle, people getting in and out. The boss chatted about football with the others. He seemed happy that Highlanders had won and showed this to others on the mobile phone. It gave me a small boost. Even cops were on the internet! I think about modern Africa being a huge virtual chat room where even the small people
Then the harassment began. There were four detectives in the room, three facing me and one seated next to me. I was shown a bunch of papers making up the docket but was not allowed to read them, except for the ‘provisional order’, which formed the basis of the charges. I was given a minute or two to browse through the ‘order’. Naturally, it is impossible to read and fully comprehend a High Court order with ten or so points in just a minute, under circumstances where you are too busy wondering what will come next.
I pointed out to the police that the complainant listed as Lilian Timveous was unknown to me. Information at hand showed that the woman going around calling herself Lilian Timveos or Lilian Timveous was actually Lilian Mpofu. (Name: Lilian Mpofu, AKA Lilian Timveos, AKA Lilian Timveous, AKA Lilian Acropol, AKA Lilian Adams, AKA Lilian Sibanda; passport number BN 259762, national ID number 67-080131 KK 58; date of birth: 04 April 1973; nationality: Zimbabwean; addresses 383 Prince Street, Zvishavane, 37 Brooke Village, Borrowdale Brooke, Harare; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; mobile numbers – keeps changing lines, registering new ones under false aliases or names of others: 263 773 894 366, 263 779 701 082. Title: Senator, Midlands province; education: Vainona High School – O’Level).
The police refused to entertain my request for them to verify the complainant’s identity. This is crucial to the case because whichever way it goes, someone will have to bear penalties. I’m countersuing this senator for substantial damages for tarnishing my reputation by spreading and publishing false stories and to my life generally as she hunts me down like this. That is why it’s important for us to be sure who we are dealing with.
I realized then that perhaps there were other forces at play here. I told the cops that I would need a lawyer before I responded to the charges. That seemed to upset them.
“What’s so difficult to understand about such a simple charge? Just make a statement and we’ll let you go,” one of the cops said, exasperated, thumbing through a tattered copy of the Zim cop’s favourite law, the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.
“This is a case in which someone is claiming two and half million from me. I can’t just sign statements without being sure what this means,” I said.
After hours of haggling I was tired and I’m sure they expected that. The ‘boss’ ordered one of the men to take me outside while they conversed in secret. I was glad for some air. It was well after 6 pm and getting dark.
“You are the most stupid journalist I have ever seen,” the cop told me as soon as we got outside. He was being deliberately rude, but obviously acting the good cop, the guy who’s willing to help you, to give you a way out of the hole that you just dug yourself into. I looked at the prospect of spending “forty-eight hours, which can be extended by a magistrate”, as one of them had said while reading me my ‘rights’.
“I wonder, are you really a journalist? Damn you are so dumb. Just sign the statement and go home. You know, if you had come in for something like robbery we could have tortured you and you’d have confessed everything and signed that statement by now. Look, I’m your friend. You drink at Escrow and that’s where I drink too. Tell them you need time to look for a lawyer, sign the statement and go home,” the man said as others trooped out of the station to go home.
How far would you go to tell the truth? That is the rhetorical question asked in ‘Silenced’, a riveting documentary by James Spione on the fate of three whistleblowers who exposed torture, mass surveillance and government waste. I found myself asking the same question this week as I considered the future of my media interests in Zimbabwe in light of the present attacks on the media generally from state authorities there.
On Monday October 8, 2016 I have been summoned to appear before a magistrate’s court to answer charges that I published something offensive about a state senator in violation of a court order.
I find the whole affair disgusting. First of all, I was not served with the relevant court order. This was a simple attempt by Mwonzora and Associates, senator Lilian ‘Timveos’ Mpofu’s lawyers, to prevent us from challenging the so-called provisional order and to entrap us into violating an order we are not aware of.
If this is the last letter that I ever write to you or, if one of these coming days I disappear without trace like my colleague and friend Itai Dzamara, just know that I tried to protect the truth in a dangerous environment where ignoring it or simply lying low is more convenient and even lucrative for some. How this system works is that after tagging you like this – they know your name, home address and even your mother’s phone number – they can then come and kidnap you to send you to heaven. Ask Itai Dzamara.
I am not under any illusion that the current onslaught by high-level state agents using this senator will end well. So far, the process is fraught with irregularities. It has neither been just nor fair to me, violating my constitutional right to safety and to be treated as innocent until proven guilty.
The threats have not only taken the form of judicial harassment that discredited African politicians are expert at. Death threats and physical attacks have often prevented me from doing my legitimate work as a journalist. Recently, I was filming a residents’ meeting at Mandava hall when Senator ‘Timveos’ Mpofu arrived in a mini-bus normally used to ferry kids to and from her pre-school. She unleashed thugs on the meeting and some of them tried first to stop me shooting a video of the event and when that failed, to make me delete my files.
If you can, call or the following people and ask them why their party, the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai are trying to destroy the media by harassing John Chimunhu and disrupting Now Daily website:
Morgan Tsvangirai, MDC-T president – 263 774 427 581; Douglas Mwonzora – MDC-T secretary-general – 263 774 148 461; Lilian ‘Timveos’ Mpofu – MDC-T senator – 263 773 894 366, 263 779 701 082, 263 775 938 041; Michael Timveos – 263 775 368 830; Detective Sergeant Mabwe (Wasu)– ZRP CID Zvishavane – 263 51 2584, 263 773 443 813.
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