Three years after my arrest – moving on

Thabani Mpofu has been behind both sides of prison bars – as an advocate and as a political prisoner after he was arrested in 2013. On the 3rd anniversary of his arrest, he reflects on the difficult period.

One time political prisoner
Thabani Mpofu – one time political prisoner

On this day, three years ago I was picked up by the police from my home and taken to Harare Central Police Station. My three colleagues Mehluli Tshuma, Warship Dumba and Felix Matsinde also joined me at Harare Central Police Station. Mehluli Tshuma bravely handed himself in after learning that the three of us had been picked up and that the police were anxious to interview him. Mehluli later told me that he had contemplated absconding but decided otherwise, his reason being that he was of the view that if he absconded, the chances of the three of us being granted bail would be significantly diminished. The four of us were not immediately informed of the reason for our arrest and detention. We found out on the next day that we had apparently committed the heinous crime of seeking to expose corruption when we were not duly attested members of the police force. For our sins we were remanded in custody for just under a fortnight with bail being eventually granted to us despite concerted efforts by the Attorney General’s Office (as it was then known) to lodge us in jail until the finalisation of our trial. Even after our release we endured, at one stage, daily hearings which had their toll on us emotionally and physically. All that for daring to expose corruption.

Visiting Robben Island

In the previous two anniversaries I dwelt on our experiences and the injustice of the treatment meted on us. Last year I had an experience which put our ordeal in proper perspective. Towards the end of December 2015, I visited Robben Island off the Cape Town coast. This was an experience I found very humbling and yet at the same time intensely saddening. Nelson Mandela who spent twenty seven years in jail is Robben Island’s most famous prisoner but sadly not its only one. At Robben Island which is now a tourist attraction. I found that there are many prisoners who spent many, many years in prison for fighting against apartheid. President Jacob Zuma, Tokyo Sexwale, Ahmed Kathrada, and many others spent more than ten years at Robben Island, all of them charged with crimes connected to the fight for racial equality in South Africa. Namibia’s Toivo Ja Toivo was also a prisoner at Robben Island for many years.

Political prisoners

In my own country, Zimbabwe, thousands of people were imprisoned throughout the country during the war of liberation. President Robert Mugabe, Sam Sipepa Nkomo and many others spent more that ten years in jail for fighting against an unjust system. Joshua Nkomo, George Silundika, Emmerson Mnangagwa and the late Morris Nyagumbo and others all did prison time during the liberation war.

Nelson Mandela emerged from prison and forged a single nation free of racial discrimination in which his former tormentors enjoyed full human rights and freedom from persecution. This policy continues today under President Zuma who despite invitations to do so has refused to turn South Africa into a racial war zone. Prime Minister Robert Mugabe (at the time) pursued a policy of reconciliation after independence and inherited personnel in the security service who had once been his political adversaries. These were the thoughts that occupied me on that sobering afternoon at Robben Island in December 2015.

In memory of lives lost

To say that our fortnight in custody pales into insignificance in light of the sacrifices made by others is a gross understatement. I therefore dedicate this post to all the peoples of the world who have endured lengthy terms of imprisonment (including those who are still in prison) and those who have even paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting injustice and oppressive systems. May their efforts bring peace and a better world to those for whom they have endured pain and hardship and on behalf of whom some have lost their lives.



Uncle Thabani is a lawyer and a former prosecutor. His best moments are with his family, a good book and an Arsenal game.

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