Yakatambika! Jere rinopera!: Jailed ex minister Petronella Kagonye turns to God, gains weight

Chief Correctional Prison Officer Chaplain Christine Phiri and jailed former Cabinet Minister Petronella Kagonye

Prison is never among the best places to be. When you are convicted and jailed, you might think it is the end of the world.

However, you will discover it’s the beginning of yet another streak of life, with nourishing experiences.

As soon as you discover that, you accept and adapt and this is the basis of the popular inmates’ slogan: “Yakatambika, Yakatambika! “Jere rinopera!” (loosely translated to, what happened, happened, jail time will soon pass).

As Phakamani/Simukai Women’s Club chairperson Mrs Marian Chihobvu repeated what has become Chikurubi Female Prison’s slogan to a roaring response from the inmates, “Yakatambika!” on Thursday, it emerged that convicted former Labour and Social Welfare Minister Petronella Kagonye was among the hordes who enthusiastically repeated the response, “Yakatambika!”

Just as I locked eyes with a plump woman across the shed pointing at me, a colleague grabbed my arm, excitedly pulling me towards her, telling me along the way that he would “take me to the person you are searching for.”

Standing right in front of me was this excited chubby one.

I could not immediately recognise her, only to do so after closer inspection and further scrutiny.

Donning a white sun-hat that almost covered her forehead and eyes, fairly new pink prison garb, no facial make-up, which had become her trademark before her incarceration in June, I eventually recognised her as the former Cabinet Minister Kagonye.

She looked cheerful as she took part in activities where Mrs Chihobvu, the wife to Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) director-general Moses Chihobvu, addressed inmates in her capacity as chairperson of Phakamani/Simukai Women’s Club to which they are members.

Flanking Kagonye were, recently jailed Karoi clerk of court Shelter Kachirika and her co-accused former magistrate Amanda Muridzo both sentenced to an effective one year in jail for taking a US$20 bribe to tilt a maintenance claim in favour of a defendant.

Kagonye was convicted in June for diverting to her own use, 20 computers which had been donated through her by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) to benefit schools in her Goromonzi South constituency in 2018.

She was sentenced to 36 months with 12 of these set aside for five years on condition of good behaviour.

A further eight months were set aside on condition she restitutes US$10 000, the cost of the missing laptops.

Kagonye opened up and told of how she had accepted her sudden change of fate.

“I only discovered the other side of me when l got inside here. I am actually a pastor. I went to Bible college but l never thought l would practice what I learnt. The moment l came here, l got that opportunity. And I am writing a book which l will publish as soon as l am released. It is about prayer. I have made a lot of friends here and I have added some weight,” she said.

As testament to her many friends, the interview would intermittently be interrupted as they passed to greet or to consult on whatever they felt like.

She said most people she has interacted with in prison want to pray, but do not know how to, hence her desire to write a book on prayer.

“l am clocking four months now inside Chikurubi Female Prison and I have learnt quite a lot.

“It’s actually a community on its on with new experiences and the good thing is, for everything that happened, God has a reason and purpose.

She said she realised that not all people in jail committed crimes, some were there to serve a purpose.

“There is a biblical scripture quoted by Prophet Jeremiah 33 verse 3 in the Bible. He was given while in prison by God Himself which means, in jail there are both good and evil people.”

The former minister said despite being an inspiration to many in prison, one of her children who turned two years while she was in prison was failing to recognise her and sometimes turned her back on her.

“My family always visits me. But my last born child, who turned two while I was here in prison, can’t seem to recognise me. She seems to have lost her memory of me,” said Kagonye, with a distant gaze into space that told of a poignancy that she fought hard to disguise.

The well-manicured finger nails that she used to wear have now been replaced by short, almost calloused ones.

“There are lots of activities that are carried out by inmates as part of rehabilitation. We do horticulture gardening, poultry rearing, knitting, sewing and a host of other income generating activities. As an inmate, I participate in all activities. You honestly cannot expect me to still keep well-manicured nails,” she said, giving out a hearty laughter.

Kagonye said her incarceration brought her a lot of revelation of the Bible and she has found time to understand why she has ended up in prison.

“When you are inside here, what else can you do other than to worship? I have been teaching others how to pray because l realised that there were quite a number of things that were missing.

“Others have the desire to worship but the how part remains a challenge. That is why I am mainly focusing on writing a book prayer,” she said.

While largely staying away from the reason why she was jailed, the former minister said she had appealed against both conviction and sentencing and judgement has been reserved.

“I am still awaiting court processes. I do not know when that will happen. So, we cannot talk about that.”

As chair of the Women’s Club, Mrs Chihobvu had brought some dishwasher and soap making experts to train the inmates on how to make their own products for sale upon release. She also brought toiletries and some goodies for children whose mothers were serving jail terms sourced through the club for the inmates.

“My executive remains committed to serving our membership which comprises of female inmates, female prison guards, spouses and widows of male prison guards.

“We remain a family and we will continue to empower ourselves through entrepreneurship training.

“We have lots of income generating activities that we conduct for our membership. We are grateful to the ZPCS director general Chihobvu who is also my spouse and his team,” she said.

ZPCS Ambassador and popular Dendera musician Suluman Chimbetu provided entertainment and pledged to continue supporting women empowerment.

— Herald

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