I REGARD prayer as a crucial element of my spiritual life, and I know all the marvels that happen around me are because of it. To me, it is a conversation between God and a worshiper, and for that reason it’s one activity I always treat with respect.
The most convenient place I usually go when I want to pray for long moments is the mountain – any nearby mountain. It has been my tradition since 2005 to talk to God whenever I needed life’s most pertinent answers.
In Harare, I used to spend an hour or two in the mountain at Resthaven Christian Retreat and Conference Centre situated 25 kilometres north of Harare, but then, later on, discovered an alternative spot I could equally utilise. A certain hill adjacent to Harare Quarry mining and blasting.
On December 13, I visited the usual spot for the same purpose around 4PM in the company of my friend, Perfect Khumalo. As usual, we were talking about Jesus and everything that we wanted to pray for as we meandered our way up to the hilltop. Upon arrival, I grabbed my phone and started swiping sideways looking for the Bible app to read a few scriptures and encourage each other before we started praying.
Unexpectedly, I heard the breaking of twigs in the undergrowth as three uniformed soldiers emerged from behind the bushes. The formation with which they were advancing towards us told me something was off. One of them was swinging sparkly handcuffs in his hand, while the second was busy unwinding a rubber sjambok (mboma) and the third military officer was not armed.
I had no cause for concern, I thought. Nothing illegal here, no threat to the security of the country. Unfazed, I continued talking to Perfect about Christ as the trio marched closer. It then dawned on me that these men might have been tailing, or had lay in ambush for us. But what was the issue? What could they possibly do to unarmed civilians looking for God?
I was wrong. “Hello, boys, what are you doing here?” One of the soldiers inquired. “We are here to pray, Sir,” I responded. “Why here?” He asked. “Because it’s a convenient place without noise or other disturbances,” I replied. “Come, sit here!” The soldier holding a sjambok yelled. Like sheep, we hoisted ourselves down to the spot he had designated. Suddenly, we were ordered to empty our pockets and put our cellphones away from us. “Manje, chibvisai hembe murare pasi makabatana uye makatarisa pasi!” [Now, remove your shirts and lay facedown close to each other!] He snarled again.
“Jesus died for you and it’s now time to die for him,” the officer continued. “Say, Jesus, I am dying for you!” We recurrently repeated his words as the whip went up and down our naked backs. Seeing their determination it reminded me of how the Pharisees mercilessly tortured the character of Jesus as portrayed in the passion play. We squirmed, screamed and groaned but our voices could not be heard anymore. These men were certainly on a mission to kill and to destroy. The whips could be felt smacking and shaking the ribs. “Your Jesus got you in trouble, today,” they repeatedly said those words and two soldiers took turns on us.
“Okay guys, I’m going to cuff them, then we go,” said the other soldier who seemed like his whole job was to watch the perimeter while his colleagues dragged us to heaven’s door. When I stretched my hands for him to cuff them, the other soldier opposed. “Not yet boss, with one way down the hill they can’t run away from us lest they fall over the edge of the cliff and meet their Creator. We can as well arrange that appointment by just giving them a push into the deep.” They held us by the belts as we were marched down the hill.
All I wanted was to call my brother say, “Bye, we had a good time on earth. Remain in Christ.” But probably in the hands of the men who were trained to kill, I was not going to have that chance. I kept on asking myself, “What kind of Zimbabwe was this?” At the foot of the hill, there was a huge rock on which we were told to lay upon, facedown again. However, we had to remove all our clothes now. They began assaulting us as if nothing ever happened on the summit of the hill.
Amid all this, I shouted: “Jesus, you are the king!” Now the whip was landing everywhere, the whole body was open for business. I remember checking Perfect lying by my side only to see his head squashed under a soldier’s boot. It was horrendous! He cried as the sjambok ripped open his skin. Nothing could make him feel better except seeing the whip back on my bums. That was the only moment of relief.
“You guys have been enjoying the show without me, it’s my turn now,” the officer playing lookout said as he seized the sjambok. “I am going to whip them, then we go. You, how many whips do you want?” The question was directed to me. “I don’t know, Sir,” I replied. “No, give me a number!” He howled. “Two,” I answered. “Good. Two multiplied by two twice gives eight, boss,” the other soldier shouted. Perfect having noticed the trap I had just plunged myself into, he quickly said his figure was three. They all roared in laughter as they shout, “Fifteen” simultaneously.
The two-striped officer whipped me twice and Perfect thrice like we had agreed, but the other two objected to his leniency. One of them took over and battered us like stubborn, yoked oxen. Then the words we dearly wanted to hear. “Wear your clothes and run!” I swiftly pulled my trousers up, grabbed my belongings and dizzily followed the path leading to where Perfect went.
[Takudzwanashe and Perfect filed police reports at Braeside Police Station in Harare]