Alexis Bloom: How do you feel about being back in Zimbabwe?
Sazini Mpofu: It feels kind of sad. Being back in Zimbabwe reminds me of a lot of things that have happened to me and my family since 2001.
What does it remind you of?
It reminds me mainly of what I went through by being part of the opposition party.
Do you think things have changed since 2001?
Yeah, a lot of things have changed. Some things have become worse than they were during the time I was arrested. Then, a couple of things were affordable. One could at least work and get paid and be able to look after a family. But now, you cannot afford to at least look after two people.
How does it make you feel that you went through all of that trouble and sadness and this is where we are today?
It really does hurt me a lot. Because I thought maybe, you know, some of us went through suffering so that others could have a better life. But it seems that it's getting worse every day.
When you were arrested, what was the political climate like versus today?
I think people are no longer willing to fight. They don't want to get involved in any political activities, or even if they're getting involved, they somehow hide it from the public because of what they have seen happening to other people and to us. They think it's best to just remain in their homes, close the doors, and forget about any other issue except their families and how to survive.
They say sometimes that a hungry man is an angry man. Do you think we've reached that point yet?
No, I think we're still far from that point because if we had reached that point, there would be a difference right now as we speak. People would be doing something about what's happening in this country. But everyone is quiet. If you didn't know, you'd think everything was perfect in this country.
That's something we have noticed. We come here and we drive down the streets and it seems perfectly normal. Why does it seem so calm?
People are really suffering, but now they are hiding that suffering. You get into your home, your room, just thinking about it a lot, getting stressed out. But there is nothing you can really do about it. If you take it to the streets in terms of protest, you get arrested. People are really tired. People are feeling the heat, but they're afraid at the same time.
Do you think then that Mugabe has won?
From Mugabe's point, from the whole of Zanu PF's point, they're telling themselves that they have won. Because so far they have achieved what I believe is what they wanted. Because people are suffering, people fear them. If someone tells you he is a war veteran, you have to fear him because that person is capable of actually making you suffer. He can get you arrested, get you beaten up, tortured. He won't even be a policeman, but he can actually handcuff you and take you to the police station. Make charges against you, get you beaten - and there is nothing that one can do about that.
Is it one of the government’s main priorities to intimidate its own people?
Personally, I believe that's what they want - for the people to feel that the government, their ruling party, the Zanu PF, is in power. If they didn't want that, why would they let people suffer like this? You go to every shop, you have the money, but the commodity is not available. It's not that it's being withheld somewhere. It's just not there.
Some people say the government relies on brutality because it doesn’t enjoy popular support.
The Zanu PF Party doesn't have the support of the people, so they introduce fear into the public. They [the people] decide to ignore the whole political atmosphere because they have seen examples of people being murdered, people being arrested, people being beaten, houses being burned down. For instance, my place was burned down during my arrest. So if people see such things happening to their neighbors, they fear that they might be the next victims, so they lie low and ignore the political situation.
So your house was burned down? Explain what happened to you.
It was November 2001. I was not at home; I was with my girlfriend at her place. I can say they were police officers in civilian clothing. Some were putting on riot police officer uniforms and some were just putting on these police uniforms, carrying rifles and other small guns. That's when they came to my girlfriend's place, about 40 meters from my place. They knocked at the door and threatened to break down the door. So my girlfriend opened the door. They came in and started insulting me without asking any questions.
They only question I heard them ask was where I was, so she told them I was in the bedroom and then they came into the bedroom. They asked for my I.D. I gave them my passport, and then they started assaulting me without telling me anything about what was going on. One officer told them to let me get dressed, and then they handcuffed me from behind. And they started assaulting me again. I was taken out of the house into the vehicle. There were two police vehicles parked outside.
What happened to my girlfriend after, I didn't know. I was taken to my place. When we got there, I realized that they had broken into my room. And there was already another police vehicle parked in the yard.
I was once a polling agent for the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] during elections, during the 2000 elections. So I had papers, you know, manuscripts of how one is to conduct an election, something like that; they took all those papers and said I knew a lot of secrets about the MDC that I was going to tell them. At that point, they hadn't told me who they were. I just had to suspect that maybe they were genuine police officers. Any of them who wanted to assault me just hit me whenever he felt it was appropriate.
So they took me out of the room and into the car, and we drove all night looking for other suspects I believe they wanted to arrest. Some they were arresting, others they were just beating and leaving. So we got to the police station during the next morning. I was taken into a cell and then to an office where there were police officers in civilian clothing. They told me that they wanted me to agree with what they wanted me to say in front of the camera.
They wanted me to say I had a hand in the kidnapping and killing of Cain Nkala. At that point, I told them I knew nothing about that case and I wasn't involved. So they started assaulting me, all the police officers who were there, but there was this one police officer, he was sitting. He didn't touch me, just instructed the other police officers to beat me up.
I really felt the pain during the time they were assaulting me, so I ended up agreeing with what they wanted. And that's when they said they wanted me for indications. And when we got to the indication site, they would tell me what to do. So they took me and Khethani to the indications.
Explain what you mean by "indications."
"Indications" is when we are taken to the scene of the crime to point out what we did, and how we did it.
So they took you ...
Yeah, from the police cells to the scene of the crime. When we got to the scene of the crime, there were cameras ... the national television crew were there and other private organizations and the police officers with their own video camera, and they started recording. So before they started recording, we were told what we going to say, how we were going to position ourselves and point to the graveyard ... to the grave actually.
So what we did is, we sort of rehearsed the whole thing before it was recorded on camera. So then Khethani is the one who was to indicate the body first, and then I was the one indicating second, and I was asked questions by police detectives. All this was being recorded on camera.
After that, we were taken back to the cells. And then, I believe that during that day, in the evening, the footage that was recorded was shown on national television. And that was the same time when my place was burned down.
Were you surprised that you were arrested?
Yes, definitely. Because Cain Nkala [the victim who was kidnapped and found in a shallow grave] was a friend of my father. And the distance between Cain's house and my house is about 600 meters, so it came as a surprise because when he was kidnapped, there were a lot of police officers going around in our area, searching houses, arresting people. They never approached us. But surprisingly, they then came for me and arrested me.
There is some bond between you and the victim?
Yes. There is a bond because when my mother was ill, Cain would come and pray for my mother. So I couldn't have gone to the extent of kidnapping someone that I personally knew who was a friend of the family.
So how could they have had cameras rolling and ready?
They were asked that question in court. The investigating officer was asked how it was possible that they could have organized cameras and a national news crew. How could they have known that there was such a thing going on?
The investigation officer told the court that he didn't know. He didn't have any clue how the news crew got to know about the indications.
I think the whole thing was planned so they could have access to the footage, to the pictures. I think the outline of the body was down in front of the cameras so they could play that on national news and show that the MDC was a violent party. That's what they were trying to achieve - to show that the MDC was capable of unspeakable things.
Why were they so keen to tarnish the image of the MDC?
At the station, the investigating officer told us that they had been given the task of getting the MDC banned from political grounds. I think they were trying to get the MDC to be unpopular.
What was it like to be a member of the MDC?
At that point, it was quite difficult because people didn't believe that there could be a party that could challenge Zanu PF. We had to get to the ground level and convince people that this is the right opportunity for us to kick out Zanu PF once and for all. It wasn't easy because there are still people who believe in Zanu PF. But we managed to pull through and really get the MDC on its feet.
What was it like in terms of pressures that you faced?
At first it was not that bad. It was easy. But as we went on, Zanu PF realized we were gaining ground and then began sending in its people to start arresting us. That's when we started facing the difficulties.
Today no one really says he's a member of the opposition, except for those known as members of the opposition, like me. Once people get to know, the police will pay you frequent visits, uttering threats that if you continue with your behavior, this might happen to you or that might happen to you.
And what happened to you?
When my place was burned down, I was already arrested. The police officer just told me, "We have been to your place, and your place has burned down. But your young brothers and sisters are OK. They ran away before your place was burned down." That really did have an impact on me because I was already arrested and there was nothing I could have done.
My mother and father passed away, so I was looking after my young brothers and sisters. So by then I knew that they had no place to go, so they had to seek refuge somewhere. At that point, I didn't know where they were and I was in police custody.
Where did they end up?
They ended up going to our relatives. They went to different relatives.
When I came from prison, I had to raise some funds to try and get help from people and different organizations to try to build up my place. That is the only place that I have and can live. And I have young brothers and sisters that also need a place to stay, so that was really a major setback. As we speak, I am still working hard trying to get my place finished, but I am halfway through and at least I am glad that I have managed this far.
When will you be able to live there again?
At the present moment, I am staying there because I have to look after a few things. I might finish the place, but they might come back and burn it down again. So I am still trying to see if it is safe for everyone to come back home. If it is not, I will have to stay with relatives. And we will have to abandon the place.
You were briefly out of the country, then you came back. Somebody said to me that you were brave to come back. Tell me about that decision.
I can't say I was very confident. I can say that I came back because I felt I had to come back to look after my younger sisters and brothers. And I felt that if I were to stay out of the country, it would be like abandoning them. I thought it would be good for me to come back and face everything - face the police, Zanu PF, the whole government. There are police that are asking about my whereabouts, asking about what I am doing, how I am surviving since I don't go to work. All the time I am telling myself that I have to be alert 24/7. I have to see if there is anything strange around me and to investigate it. I am always ready to run, and I am always ready to hide. If my younger brothers and sisters have a place of their own, then I can go out of the country and never come back. As it is, I am staying under fear.
Do you think there will come a time when you are not living under such fear?
I believe there will come a time when the Zanu PF will no longer be in power. Regardless of which party is in power, if Zanu PF is no longer in power and if Robert Mugabe is no longer in power, it will be safe - not only for me, but for every other Zimbabwean that's in this country.
What is going on in the MDC today? Some people are taking one side and some people are taking another side.
The split between the MDC members has already affected my relationship with other guys that are here in Zimbabwe that I was close to. I am against going for the senate elections because it doesn't change anything. We go for the elections and we win, but still Mugabe will take the people who lost and make them into senators. We haven't achieved anything. It is OK to boycott and to say it is OK if we take a stand. But I don't think we should get to that point because we all want the same thing - to get rid of the Zanu PF regime. It is unfortunate, but I think that Tsvangirai and Gibson Sibanda would sit down and talk as people older than us and show us how it is done. If they don't show us at this stage, I don't believe that we as the youth can manage.
How did you and Khethani [the co-accused in the murder] first work together?
Khethani was a driver for the MDC. I was a youth chairperson at district level for my constituency. So every time a rally was to be organized, Khethani would approach me and ask for youth to do jobs that would need to be done. I would provide him with youth and a PA system so he could go around in his car announcing where the rally would be. I worked a lot with Khethani.
So what was it like then? Were you guys filled with optimism?
I felt really good because at that point I felt I was making a difference in Zimbabwe. I was an example of what youth my age should be into. Mainly guys my age are into drinking beer. We wanted to show them that instead of dealing with our problems by smoking and drinking, we could do it another way - by getting rid of the party that was hurting us. Most of the guys did come around.
How do you feel about all the people who have left Zimbabwe and moved to South Africa?
They are trying to save themselves. I am in Zimbabwe because I am trying to help my family, but after that I am leaving. I am definitely going to try and stay there [in South Africa] because in Zimbabwe, people don't have jobs. I am not saying that in South Africa people have jobs, but here in Zimbabwe if you try to sell tomatoes, they take them and they arrest you and you have to pay a fine for that. So people don't have any choice except to leave for South Africa. It is quite difficult in this country to try and survive.
How are South Africans responding to the large numbers of Zimbabweans who want to live there?
The South Africans are definitely not making it easy for Zimbabweans to live there because we are not treated as if we are human beings. South Africans should bear with us and try to help our government. If we had a better government, we wouldn't want to move to South Africa. I am not saying they are against foreigners, I am just saying they should try to understand us. I just pray, I just want a place where we belong. As Zimbabweans, we want to belong to Zimbabwe. But Zimbabwe is rejecting us, so we are forced to seek refuge in other countries. We are just trying to make it.
What gives you faith that Zanu PF will go?
I have faith that Zimbabwe will regain its status and return to the country it was once before. It is the matter of having the right government. With Zanu PF, I don't see us as a country surviving that long. What is happening today is very difficult for me to talk about. It really hurts me to think that someone somewhere has the money but can't get food, that someone is not getting paid, that someone is getting arrested for being in the MDC. I wish the government would be done with it - get a new government, get in new brains and work from there. We need people that will appreciate other countries coming in to help, other NGOs coming in to help. The current government doesn't want anything to do with NGOs or people from other countries.
Someone like Pius Nube [Archbishop of Bulawayo] is very outspoken.
Yes. Pius Nube has really felt the heat because he talks to the people and sees what is on the ground. He helps the people and tries to get them food; he even helped me with my place. He knows what he is talking about and really wants change for this country. Some people in this country don't really care about what is happening on the ground; they only care about themselves. But with someone like Pius Nube, this place could be a better place for everyone.
Do you have anything else you’d like to say?
You know, Zimbabwe is a very beautiful country. We all love Zimbabwe. And those who are not living in Zimbabwe do so not because it is unbearable, no. It is because of the government. [Zimbabweans] should not totally forget about Zimbabwe. They should try and do something for their country wherever they are. They can be in Kenya, the United States, but it doesn't matter because they will be fighting for their fellow Zimbabweans. I wish people could see things my way and be brave and do something for their country. If we Zimbabweans don't do anything for the country, no one is going to do anything from another country. Outsiders can only help us if we try to help ourselves.
This interview between Alexis Bloom and Sazini Mpofu took place in February 2006 in Harare. It has been edited for clarity.
Sazini Mpofu is a former Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition activist who worked with fellow member Khethani Sibanda. After both men were arrested in 2001 on trumped-up charges of kidnapping and murdering a high-ranking member of the ruling party, Mpofu's family home was burned down. Mpofu spent three years in prison before he was finally acquitted. After his release, he fled to South Africa, and later returned to Zimbabwe. In this interview, Mpofu talks about the murder charge and about his decision to return to Zimbabwe, despite fear and reprisals, to provide for his younger siblings and rebuild the family home.