FOR 81-year-old Nyatsamba Sairos of Budiriro, Harare, his horrific experience at the hands of police on January 14, 2023 has left an indelible mark in his life.
On that fateful day, Sairos woke up early morning as usual planning to tend his crops a distance away from home, but later decided to visit his long-time friend who stays in the same neighbourhood.
This marked the beginning of his real life drama which would last the next 14 days.
He says on his way to see his friend, he was caught up in the crossfire as police swooped on opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party activists attending an unsanctioned meeting at Budiriro legislator Costa Machingauta’s house.
He was arrested alongside the CCC activists and bundled into a police truck charged with disturbing public peace in the suburb.
In a heart-wrenching interview with Heart & Soul Broadcasting Services (HStv), a radio and television web cast run by Alpha Media Holdings, Sairos still insists he was wrongly arrested.
“I was just walking along the street when I noticed a truckload of riot police officers. When I was still trying to figure out what was happening, another police officer grabbed me from behind claiming I was part of the group. I was shaken. He wanted to beat me up with a baton stick, but his colleague restrained him,” he said.
The octogenarian was then bundled into the police truck.
“We were taken to Harare Central Police Station in the evening and for the next 14 days, I was in detention,” he said.
Sairos was not alone in that predicament. Another senior citizen, Misheck Nyembe (72), was also accosted and bundled into the same police truck after being found walking in the streets.
“A violent police officer grabbed me from behind and shoved me into the truck. I fell and hurt my back. I can’t even sit up properly now. They took us to Budiriro Police Station and they suggested that we pay bail. I don’t know what happened, we were later instructed to get into the car and we found ourselves being locked into cells at Harare Central Police Station,” Nyembe said.
After their initial remand appearance, they were sent to remand prison.
Sairos said the prison cells were a horror sight.
“The place one sleeps is not good, the water is unhygienic and the food is unhealthy. Any time, you can get a serious illness because of the bad conditions there. One of the people who was arrested with us caught COVID-19,” he said.
Nyembe chipped in saying it was difficult to survive in prison because of his health condition and advanced age.
“Prisoners are sleeping piled up like stones. If you want to go to the toilet at night, you walk on top of sleeping inmates. Since we are already old, we end up messing up ourselves before reaching the toilet. I don’t even know my crime. I was living nicely with my children and grandchildren.
“We were put in D Class. Some of the wardens wanted to beat me up because I kept standing up due to backache. Other prisoners were very understanding, they would give me water to bath. Now I am always scratching because of bites from lice,” Nyembe added.
For Sairos, he says his greatest pain emanated from the fact that he lost income while in incarceration because he survives on menial jobs.
“I survive on menial jobs and for 14 days in remand prison, I have lost income and I do not know how my family has been surviving. I am bitter because the police just picked us randomly without considering our ages,” he said.
Added Sairos: “I am a farmer, I look after my children. I have a big family and I also want change because there are no jobs. I have grandchildren that I look after. The mother of one of the grandchildren died when she (the grandchild) was less than two years old.”
Nyembe said for seven decades, he has been trying hard to stay out of trouble, and prison was a bitter pill for him to swallow.
“What pains me is that our family has a history of staying out of trouble. My grandfather died in 1968 at the age of 115, he was never arrested,” he said.
“My father died in 2021 at the age of 101, he was never arrested and now I am 72 years and had never been arrested.
“This is so painful to me because I did not transgress in any way, but I was arrested, and have broken the family’s tradition of living a crime-free life.”
Their lawyer Chris Mhike, who managed to secure their bail on January 29, said the two should never have been arrested.
“I am happy they are out, but they should never have been arrested. Their arrest was unjustifiable,” Mhike said.