Zim's youngest terrorist at the deep end

HARARE - Sitting between fertile farming soils and a rich mining belt, Banket could easily be heaven on earth.

Yet it is quite the opposite for a mother and son here.

The seemingly sleepy town, where locals live in abject poverty despite the resources surrounding them, is home to a juvenile and a mother living a life of hell.

It is a bumpy ride to get to Banket’s Kuwadzana suburb where Violet Mupfuranhewe stays with her six-year-old son Nigel.

But bumpy is nothing compared to the path that has left Violet from being a “normal” political activist to a mother nursing life wounds from the worst torture at the hands of the state security officials.

That Nigel became Zimbabwe’s “youngest terrorist” at the age of two years appears enough for a shock story.

Now six years old, Nigel is much unlike his age mates. While the country has “moved on” from the volatile 2008 election violence which affected Violet and her husband Collen, the scars are too deep to ignore.

Nigel was christened the “world’s youngest terrorist suspect” at the age of three. For allegedly plotting to topple President Robert Mugabe’s previous administration, he became one of Zimbabwe’s youngest prisoners and had to endure three months in both police and prison detention.

This is the life of Nigel Mutemagawu, a six-year-old boy who was abducted by state security agents in October 2008 during the height of Zimbabwe’s political crisis together with his parents and held incommunicado at various secret locations for allegedly plotting to overthrow Mugabe.

Together with 19 other political and human rights activists, Nigel was captured alongside his parents in Banket located in Mugabe’s home province of Mashonaland West and was allegedly beaten by state security agents.

His parents’ captors denied knowledge of their whereabouts and only surrendered them to a police station in Harare in December 2008 after human rights lawyers mounted a vigorous search for them.

Nigel was only released to his relatives in January 2009 in a moving incident while his parents remained incarcerated at Chikurubi Maximum Prison.

During the illegal detention, the alleged terrorists, who included 75-year-old Fidelis Chiramba, also from Banket, were severely tortured to confess to allegations of plotting to unseat the government through bombing and burning bridges, police stations and undergoing military training in Botswana, charges which they denied.

The parents only secured freedom in February 2009 when they were released on bail.

Their trial in the High Court has been stayed pending the outcome of their application for a stay of proceedings in the Supreme Court in which they want the constitutional court to determine the violation of several of their rights.

That state security agents believed a two-year-old minor could plot to destabilise the country and carry explosives to blow up bridges and police stations still boggles the mind.

Nigel’s story is no ordinary schoolboy tale as his parents can testify.

As a result of the abduction and detention at Chikurubi Maximum Prison, Nigel still suffers from hallucinations. His father Collen told The Legal Monitor his son was behaving strangely.

“We are worried that his behaviour is no longer normal. He seems not to have forgotten the wild experience that he endured because the image of what transpired while in detention is very much in his mind,” said Mutemagawu, who together with other abductees have sued their captors including ministers for more than $20 million for illegal arrest, detention and torture.

“Up to this day he still shouts at his friends statements such as “D1Terror”, which are names that were called out by prison guards while we were detained at Chikurubi,” Mutemagawu added.

Chikurubi Maximum Prison, where Nigel was held, is notorious for its atrocious conditions even during Zimbabwe’s better days.

Now, the conditions are much worse as prison authorities do not have enough food and resources to feed and clothe inmates.

Ever since his ordeal, Nigel’s life has been full of misery.

In 2009, just about a year after his abduction, the then three-year-old boy dropped out of kindergarten.
His parents said he quit attending kindergarten classes after finding it difficult to cope with life at the pre-school following months of detention at various torture centres around the country where his parents were subjected to rigorous torture.

“He is fearful and is refusing to go to crèche. He doesn’t like crowds and if he hears voices of people singing he starts crying,” her mother said.

It is not Nigel alone.

His brother Allan is failing to cope as well. According to his parents, Allan, now 10, at one time refused to stay at his parents’ home in Kuwadzana Township in Banket, where they were forcibly seized by state security agents.

“He doesn’t stay at home and if he sees big vehicles he runs away,” said Collen.

Four years after the torment and long forgotten by the government and institutions that ruined his life and exacted anguish on him, Nigel, now six, finds himself in the deep-end again.

He has failed to enroll for Grade one lessons at a local school in Banket because his parents cannot raise money to pay school fees in a special class that needs $350 to cover for his tuition fees and uniforms.

“We were advised to register him in a special class because he is still retarded in comprehending things.

 I need my son to be in school,” said an emotional Violet while fighting to contain tears.

Nigel, Violet says, still needs counseling and psychotherapy support.

“He is hardened now to the extent that he can’t play well with others. He beats them and sometimes throws stones at them.

“He doesn’t respect me to the extent of calling me Vie (short cut for Violet) because he says that is what prison wardens called me in prison,” Violet said.

Although international treaties stipulate that juveniles must be detained in separate facilities from adults and that their detention should be a last resort and for the shortest period, that was not the case with Nigel.

He endured incarceration with adult suspects and convicts.

This has a detrimental impact on juveniles where conditions within juvenile systems remain unsafe.

Such callous actions by the government of Zimbabwe were in breach of Article 37 of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, which binds state parties to take adequate legislative and other measures to reduce the use of pre-trial detention.

The government violated Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states that: “Accused juvenile persons shall be separated from adults and brought as speedily as possible for adjudication.”

In Zimbabwe, the detention of innocent juveniles together with parents or guardians, is rampant. They share the same prisons with adults awaiting trial for their crimes.

While the police and other authorities paid no heed to the respect for these international treaties including the Zimbabwean Constitution and the Children’s Act, the detention of the “world’s youngest terrorist suspect” attracted the wrath of High Court Judge Justice Charles Hungwe, who castigated the police for violating children’s rights by abducting and holding incommunicado the then two-year-old minor.

Justice Hungwe warned that such treatment puts people at risk of torture or other forms of ill-treatment if they are detained in solitary confinement.

“People are at risk of torture or other forms of ill-treatment if they are detained incommunicado.

“The risk increases the longer they are held as this allows for a longer period for injuries to be inflicted and visible marks of these injuries to fade,” Justice Hungwe said in his judgment.

The Judge said despite being a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the government, through the acts of its public officials, failed to protect Nigel’s rights.

“To subject a two-year-old to the rigours of detention simply on the grounds that its mother may have committed some criminal offence is totally unconscionable and immoral.

“This is made worse by the denial of basic rights to the mother in the present case. It cannot be over-emphasised that the police can only act within the law...

“It hardly needs me to point out that being a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Republic of Zimbabwe must be seen, through the acts of its public officials, to be protective of the rights of the child,” Justice Hungwe said in his judgment.

However, for his bravery and the yawning scars he endured, Nigel has a consolation: the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition in 2009 awarded him its “Democracy and Governance Individual Award”.

Four years after his harrowing tribulation, it remains to be seen whether justice will finally be done to him or it would once again be a long and bumpy road for Nigel. — Kumbirai Mafunda, Legal Monitor

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