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#ZimbabweanLivesMatter Series: What Matters? – Voices from Community Human Rights Champions

From 30 March 2020, when COVID 19 hit Zimbabwe, at ZimRights we started a series called – Their Voices Matter, aimed at documenting community responses to COVID 19. 7 reports were produced in this series. But as the fight against COVID 19 progressed, it became very clear that our crisis as a nation was much much more than the pandemic. It is the health care system that makes it unlikely for pregnant mothers to welcome home their unborn babies. It is a human rights crisis showing itself in many violations committed in the cover of COVID 19 like the torture of innocent people and the practice by the police of detaining people for trivial offences like failing to wear a mask and yet the prison system has no capacity to implement COVID 19 measures to keep inmates safe. It is a governance crisis that sees the Speaker of Parliament throwing out of Parliament elected officials compromising the integrity of the institution. It is a crisis of leadership that sees one arm of government running the government through a series of Statutory Instruments without the participation of other arms of government. It is a crisis of transparency that sees millions of the taxpayers money meant to fight COVID 19 going being looted by leaders.

This is a crisis that erodes livelihoods and delivers many to eternity in our hospitals. This is the crisis we pointed out to in our Rights in Crisis Report. This is the crisis that caused ordinary people to decide on protesting on 31 July but ended up being attacked in their homes and others being arrested and charged with various offences. A cry welling up from the communities shuttered the borders ‘Zimbabwean Lives Matter’ calling on the international community to show solidarity with the victims of the violation of rights in Zimbabwe. As the message became global, many still asked; Yes Zimbabwean Lives Matter, but what is happening?

When we said Their Voices Matter, in March 2020, we meant that their lives must matter about all and leaders ought to prioritise protecting livelihoods. The United Nations Secretary General pointed this out and said, “Protecting people’s lives is the priority; protecting livelihoods helps us do it.”

As the world asks, What is happening? In this report we feature a series of cases in which human rights have been violated. We community champions to plug into this conversation and if you have more information, feel free to share publicly or privately on myvoice@zimrights.org.zw

Godfrey Kurauone: A Prisoner of Conscience
Godfrey Kurauone, aged 33, is currently languishing at Masvingo Remand Prison awaiting trial. The state is charging Godfrey with Criminal Nuisance as defined in section 46 (2) (v) of the Criminal Law Act. His crime, singing a protest song that denounced the current President of Zimbabwe. Section 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe protects freedom of expression. On 3 August 2020, Godfrey was brought before the Masvingo Magistrate’s court where Magistrate Madondo denied him bail. Section 50 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees rights of detained persons including the right to be released unconditionally or on reasonable conditions pending trial. Godfrey was arrested while reporting for bail at the police meaning he is not a flight risk.

Godfrey is one of the 33 people who were arrested since the beginning of the July 31 protest who include investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume among others. As the momentum towards July 31 gathered, the police started randomly arresting persons suspected of leading the protest. A list of activists was published by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) in which they said they were eager to interview the individual. Godfrey’s name appeared on the list but he vowed not to attend to the interview as he had no business with the police.

Godfrey is a long time activist who has been involved in community organizing in his home town, Masvingo, the home of the Great Zimbabwe, a world heritage site. He is an elected councillor for the main opposition the Movement for Democratic Change- Alliance (MDC-A) in ward 4, a position that he held since 2013. His arrest on 31 July was the second arrest in a space of 60 days. Prior to the current charges, Godfrey had been arrested for breaking lockdown rules after he mobilized and fed the homeless people in Masvingo on 15 June 2020, a day which the President Emmerson Mnangagwa had declared a National Day of Fasting.

Godfrey was arrested in the company of his lawyer from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Advocate Martin Mureri, while reporting at the Masvingo Law and Order police section as part of his bail conditions to report every Friday.

On this second arrest a charge of criminal nuisance was brought up. It is unfortunate and sad at the same time to not that the criminal nuisance charge was as a result of him singing a song with the following lyrics “ Ichavanhorowondo kana tikatenderwa nababa kubvisa Mnangagwa

After his arrest, Godfrey had to spend the night in the cold cells of Masvingo central police station waiting to be taken to court the next day. He appeared in court the next day, thus 1st of August 2020 at the Masvingo Magistrate court. He was accompanied by his lawyer to apply for bail. The magistrate court ruled that he should come back on the 3rd of August 2020 for the bail ruling.

Godfrey was then locked up at Masvingo Remand Prison. On the 3rd of August 2020 it is ill-fated to report that the court ruled that Godfrey was not fit for the reasons that he would commit more offences if we were to be given bail. His lawyer advocate Martin Mureri highlighted that he was going to appeal against the refusal of bail at the Masvingo high Court. The appeal will most likely be hard on the 6th of August 2020 following the delays in the transcribing of the record.

In Masvingo, Godfrey has emerged a caring young leader having served for 7 years as a councillor and led various community initiatives aimed at increasing citizen participation in governance. Godfrey is a Mandela Washington Fellow who participated in a leadership course at the Presidential Precinct in 2017 based at the Presidential Precinct.

Godfrey is a loving husband to one wife, Miriam and the two are blessed with 2 young children who miss him very much. He is the sole breadwinner for the family. His commitment to democracy and human rights has attracted the wrath of the state that is determined to separate him from his family, and possibly eliminate him. In the current COVID 19 situation, ZimRights has called upon the police to avoid detaining people especially for minor offences as the Zimbabwe Prison Service has no capacity to maintain COVID 19 safety measures in prisons. ZimRights, through its COVID 19 strategy has been to several prisons donating PPE and sanitisors for inmates. Our experience show that sending anyone to prison in these times is a death sentence.

ZimRights calls for the release of Godfrey Kurauone and many other prisoners of conscience. Godfrey’s life matters. His family and community need him back at home. He is not a criminal but a good citizen who desires good governance for Masvingo.

Listen to Godfrey’s lawyer speak here.

Watch a video of Godfrey singing the song that got him arrested and locked up.

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