Last Maengahama, Tungamirai Madzokere spent 10 years in prison – two years in pre-trial detention and eight years after conviction. They were later acquitted by the Supreme Court.
Former Harare City councillor and MDC activist Tungamirai Madzokere still has vivid memories of his time at Chikurubi Maximum pr¡son where he spent eight years after he was wrongly convicted for murd£r.
Madzokere and Last Maengahama, also an MDC activist, were sentenced to 20 years in jail for allegedly k¡lling a policeman Inspector Petros Mutedza in Harare’s Glen View suburb in 2011.
They spent 10 years in pr¡son – two years in pre-trial detention and eight years after conviction.
They were later acquitted by the Supreme Court.
Madzokere said every time he closed his eyes during his time in pr¡son, he would picture a hangman taking his life for a cr!me he did not commit.
The former councillor said he would wake up from the nightmare, drenched in cold sweat with his heart pounding.
He said the sounds of pr!son guards walking up and down the corridors always terrified him, and every time his cell was opened believed they had come to take him to the gallows.
Visions of the hangman’s noose around his neck had become a regular feature in his imagination.
Before they were sentenced, Madzokere and Maengahama shared a cell with other inmates who were also on d£ath row for four months.
“It was hard living in fear of the d£ath sentence every day for four years. Just the thought of being given a d£ath sentence horrified me,” Madzokere narrated his ordeal to The Standard.
“I was not the only one troubled. The fear must have been a lot more for my d£athrow mates who had already been sentenced to be hanged until they d¡e.
“Some of them had taken to fasting; taking only roasted corn (maputi) and water.
“They shared the fear of our sentencing with us because they believed that once we were sentenced to d£ath, their own d£ath would have arrived because then the hunt for the hangman would be expedited.”
Madzokere said was also haunted by the memory of Edmund Masendeke, one of Zimbabwe’s most infamous murd£rer who was executed at the same pr¡son and had in fact shared this same prison cell.
Masendeke was most known for being a fugitive from justice along with his partner in crime, Stephen Chidhumo before they were both eventually nabbed and sent to the gallows.
He was arr£sted in 1997 after having been on the run for two years, committing cr¡mes such as rap£, murd£r, robb£ry and others.
He was sentenced to d£ath and was eventually executed on May 31, 2002.
Madzokere said the thought of sleeping in Masendele’s pr¡son cell mentally traumatised him.
“The cell that I was given also traumatised me; it was once used by Masendeke who was given a d£ath sentence and was hanged in that same pr¡son,” Madzokere said.
“Each time I went to see my visitors I had to walk past the gallows,” he said.
“I would see the red stains of blood on the wood, and it would make me feel sick. I began to write so that I could occupy myself. I wrote five books.”
According to reports, Zimbabwe is among 87 countries in the world that have not abolished the d£ath penalty.
Although Zimbabwe’s last execution was in 2005, it has 62 inmates on d£ath row.
Two of them have however been granted presidential clemency and had their d£ath sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
Section 48 of the Zimbabwe constitution says that the d£ath penalty may be imposed only for murd£r committed in aggravating circumstances and only on men aged between 21 and 70 years – not on women.
Val Ingham Thorpe, the director of local legal thinktank Veritas, proposed a re-trial of all inmates sentenced to death in a model law as part of its latest push for the abolishment of the d£ath sentence in Zimbabwe.
“The death penalty is applied disproportionately to marginalised and disadvantaged groups,” Thorpe said.
“The risk of executing an innocent person is too high to justify the continued use of the d£ath penalty.”
Thorpe said the d£ath penalty is a violation of human rights and does not reduce crime rates.
“The cost of d£ath penalty trials and appeals is significantly higher than that of life imprisonment, leading to unjust allocation of resources.
“The use of the d£ath penalty perpetuates a culture of violence and vengeance rather than rehabilitation and reintegration.”
Veritas once petitioned Parliament requesting the legislature to pass a resolution on abolishing the death penalty.
They said the death penalty did not provide closure for victims’ families and could prolong their pain and trauma.
Amnesty International representative Roselina Muzerengi said the law needed to be amended to remove the d£ath penalty.
“Amending subservient legislation relevant to the application of the d£ath penalty is the quickest route but abolition in the constitution must be the ultimate objective of stakeholders working on abolition,” Muzerengi said.
While prisoners on d£ath row have to endure psychological trauma, they also have to deal with harsh pr¡son conditions.
In its recent report on Human Rights Practices in Zimbabwe, the United States said pr¡soners in Zimbabwe are facing appalling conditions behind bars while some of them were either malnourished or seriously ill.
The report indicated that conditions in pr¡sons, ja¡ls, and detention centers were harsh, and overcrowded.
“Remand (pre-trial) pr¡sons were overcrowded,” the report reads.
“Detainees who were denied bail were often held in severely overcrowded remand cells for years while awaiting trial.”
The report also indicated that juveniles were vulnerable to abuse by pr¡son officials and other pr¡soners.
Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service spokesperson Superintendent Meya Khanyezi did not respond to questions sent to her on pr¡son conditions.
A public survey by the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI), a non-profit research organisation revealed that although 56.2 percent of Zimbabwe’s population favour the death sentence, 80% would accept abolition if the government decided on it.
Madzokere condemned the d£ath penalty saying it was inhumane.
“I am grateful that I will not have to suffer this inhuman punishment, but I also grieve for many other people on d€ath row,” he said.
“There are some people that are still there who are experiencing the trauma. They are still waiting for the hangman.”
After his release from pr!son, he found his wife had deserted him.
However, he said that was the least of his worries, and has since remarried.
“So many innocent people have been wrongly convicted. I believe that the death penalty should be removed and replace with life in prison,” he said.
Madzokere went through counselling after his release from pr!son in 2021. Standard