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05 Jul 2008 10:40
The clandestine operation to record the truth about Zimbabwe’s prison service began 10 months ago.
Two weeks ago undercover film specialists were sent to the region to smuggle three secret cameras into Harare.
But the Guardian‘s search for a prison official brave enough to reveal life behind prison walls was not easy.
Shepherd Yuda had been proud to join the prison service 13 years ago to serve his country.
But after more than a decade in the service, he felt disillusioned. Today, Yuda’s monthly salary would buy just two cans of cooking oil. He struggled to feed his young children and his wife, who is seven months pregnant. She traded food on the border to supplement their income. Surviving on a meal a day, they were forced to share their cramped home with another family.
“I’ve served this government for the past 13 years, and I was loyal to my government,” he said. “Unfortunately I didn’t know that I was being loyal to a government that was not loyal to its people.”
Unlike colleagues, Yuda refused to pander to Zanu-PF officials. He became a supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in 2000, a gesture seen in the prison service as an act of betrayal. He was beaten, imprisoned, suspended from work and, after successfully contesting the suspension in court, demoted to a low-ranking job on half-pay.
But Yuda was still working behind the prison gates—including Harare Central prison, Zimbabwe’s notorious maximum security jail—and witnessed appalling living conditions on a daily basis. He saw many inmates die. “Some of them were beaten by prison officers, some of them died of hunger, some of them died of lack of medicine. I’ve seen it all.”
Yuda filmed for six tense days in the run-up to last week’s election. But he had not anticipated that he would uncover sinister evidence of how Mugabe’s government rigged the votes of its own employees.
Yuda’s clandestine filming was a solitary operation that he kept secret from his wife and at night he recorded his thoughts in a video diary. He talked in hushed tones about locals being forced to attend Zanu-PF rallies, his fears for his wife and children, and the growing sense of terror as last week’s election approached.
“Mugabe has turned himself into a monster,” he said.
“You can’t even sleep in your house peacefully—if you hear the sound of a car coming, you think: this is the end of me. This is the terror that Mugabe has unleashed on the people of Zimbabwe.”
Yuda agonised over his decision to leave Zimbabwe. But by his final diary entry, he had banished any doubt that they should flee.
“This country has become a boiling pot where only stones can survive,” he said. - guardian.co.uk
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