SA urged to probe jailing of Zim activist
The Mail and Guardian learned on Tuesday that detained Zimbabwean human rights defender Farai Maguwu had been removed from the notorious Matapi police cells in Harare.
“Sometime on Saturday, he was transferred again to Harare Central Police Station,” said Dewa Mavhinga, head of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
Maguwu, director of the Mutare-based Centre for Research and Development, has been monitoring alleged human rights abuses by government security forces in the Marange diamond fields. His arrest on June 3 sparked protests from local and international human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC).
In a statement issued on June 12, SALC said Maguwa’s arrest, “followed closely with his meeting with Kimberly Process monitor, Abbey Chikane, a South African businessman undertaking assessment of whether Zimbabwe has met the minimum standards of the Kimberley Process, a UN-backed initiative intended to halt illegal trade in diamonds”. Chikane is also the brother of former Thabo Mbeki presidential aide Frank Chikane.
This comes as preparations for a three day Kimberley Process meeting are under way in Israel. Agence-France Presse reported that Zimbabwe is set to dominate that meeting scheduled for June 21 on issues around resuming the export of the country’s diamonds.
Maguwu, who was initially held at Harare’s remand prison, was snatched without the knowledge of his lawyers or relatives on Friday and was held at Matapi police cells—described by human rights activists as a torture-centre—for a day and a night.
Asked why authorities might transfer a detainee so often, Mavhinga said: “I believe it has to do with psychological torture and it could be a form of punishment for Farai. There is really no reason behind the removal of Farai from the remand prison without the knowledge of his legal team and family, because interviews could have been held within the confines of remand prison.”
Mavhinga said the high court had set a bail hearing for 9am on June 16. He added that Maguwu had been “interrogated by members of the police in the absence of his legal representatives”.
Speaking to the M&G on Tuesday, Mavhinga confirmed that Maguwu had finally been granted access to his lawyer on the evening of June 14 so that he could be briefed on the bail application process.
Nicole Fritz, executive director at SALC, told the M&G that the Matapi police cells “have been known to be a place of torture for political opponents to the government, human rights activists and labour activists”.
Confirming this, Mavhinga added: “These are almost always overcrowded cells with appalling health conditions. Usually to take a detainee to those cells is a form of punishment. It’s a serious health hazard. I know at some point the African Commission on Human Rights recommended that the facility be shut down because it was not habitable.”
Referring to the Harare Central police station, Mavhinga said, “They are just as bad [as the Matapi cells], especially the law and maintenance of the section where Maguwu is being held.”
Internationally-recognised human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, who is assisting Maguwu’s legal team, told M&G that it was still not clear what charges Maguwu was facing. She confirmed that detective Henry Dowa—the policeman investigating the case—had said he was travelling to South Africa to meet Chikane. “He says he is going to frame the charges against Farai once he’s met with Mr Chikane, so even the police themselves are not sure,” she said.
Mtetwa also claimed that Chikane was “working very closely with Zimbabwean authorities and the police”. She could not confirm if legal action would be taken against Chikane. “We don’t know at this stage because Chikane is saying different things to different people at different times,” she said.
SA must ‘speak out’
Fritz appealed to the South African government to “speak out” about Maguwu’s detention” and to raise the issue with Zimbabwean authorities. “We would also like them to speak out against the mining situation,” she said, citing Chikane’s recent recommendation that the ban on Zimbabwe’s diamond exports be overturned. “South Africa should now examine its own role in these abuses, especially the role that South African-linked actors are playing. It would seem that some South African actors are directly complicit in the perpetration of these abuses and in some cases may give encouragement to these abuses,” she said.
Mavhinga said activists are worried that Zimbabwe’s diamond fields have become a no-go area, making it impossible to monitor the full-extent of human rights abuses. “Those who have dared to report on these abuses have been targeted for persecution by state security agents, thereby silencing them,” he said.
Zimbabwean-born human rights activist Elinor Sisulu, told M&G that she had feared for Maguwu’s safety and had warned him to take care. “He is such a courageous man with admirable determination. I think he’s such a hero of the Zimbabwean people. I just wish that ordinary people in our region could be aware of the work of people like Farai,” she said.