ONE September night last year, Derick Amos dropped off at Mazowe from a car he had hiked along the Harare-Bindura highway.
“It was around 8pm and I was coming from Harare Central Hospital where my mother was admitted,” he recalled.
After being dropped off, the 24-year-old narrated how he started his 7km walk to his place of residence, Jumbo Mine, which is adjacent to part of the former First Lady Grace Mugabe’s dairy business empire, Gushungo Holdings.
As he trudged down the road, carrying his backpack, exhausted after spending a day at the hospital, Amos said three men approached him as he was just about to pass the gate that leads to Gushungo Dairies.
“They identified themselves as officers from the President’s Office and demanded to see my identity card, and I showed it to them,” he said.
Members and informers of the dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), one of the State security organs Mugabe used to stifle civil liberties, were known to introduce themselves as officers from the Office of the President.
“They ransacked my bag and the only thing they found was the empty lunch box that I had used to take food to my mother,” he said.
“Just when I thought I was free to go, they dragged me off the road and started assaulting me with fists and open palms, accusing me of attempting to break into the then First Family’s farm.”
After bludgeoning him, he said they let him go and he could not even make a police report because they had threatened him not to do so.
Amos’ ordeal, at that time was not an isolated case as residents in the area around Mazowe, where Grace was building her empire that straddled across dozens of kilometres across the fertile and mineral-rich lands in Mazowe spoke of the terror that was perpetrated by State security agents, allegedly at the behest of the First Family.
Six months after Mugabe was ousted, marking the end of the reign of terror in the area, villagers are still recounting tales of the horror they experienced.
“Living in this place was now a nightmare as one could be terrorised for, say, parking their vehicle close to the farm, or selling oranges along the highway that Grace used when visiting her empire,” one Mazowe resident said.
“The ouster of Mugabe was just in time,” said Morgan Mazanhi, adding that the Mugabe’s had proposed that the road that leads to their farm, and also used by many others going to surrounding farms and mines, be cordoned off so that it could only be used only by the First Family.
“If they had managed to do that, then all the people who lived in the area were to go the very long way via Concession to reach the Harare Bindura Highway,” Mazanhi said.
“It is now business as usual here, kwanga kwaipa,” said one of the many pirate taxi driver who shuttle people between Mazowe and Jumbo Mine.
“Seven months ago, we had been banned from using that route and to pick up passengers anywhere near the First Lady’s properties. Any attempt to question the State agents was seen as resistance and this meant one would be up, or at worst get a night in detention.”
The terror did not spare the dozens of vendors who sell mostly oranges on the highway.
“This place was always crawling with State security agents. They were all over, and apart from restricting our business, they monitored our communication such that it was now scary to just say anything that would be perceived as negative to the First Family,” said a middle-aged woman who identified herself as Mai Taku and sells oranges a stone’s throw away from Grace’s orphanage.
Far from the common residents, gold panners and artisanal miners around the area were also hounded out of their holes.
Another villager Shepherd Mazara said when Grace came after Mugabe’s fall, she was told that she was no longer in power as the miners returned to their mining claims.
Grace reportedly made a police report and as the case took a political twist, with Grace alleging that President Emmerson Mnangagwa was behind the invasion.
What was evident for the people of Mazowe, however, was that Grace, who had tormented them for years using State instruments, had been defanged.
“We are free now,” a vendor said.