After seven years on injustice, ex-inmate turns attention to assisting prisoners I met Boxten Kudziwe’ whose story sounds too surreal that the sole emotion it draws is empathy.
Boxten Kudziwe was born in Chiradzulu in 1978 into a family of five children. He finished school in 1995, married a year later and was soon blessed with two daughters.
He trained as a teacher but soon left the profession, as a teaching salary could not support his growing family.
He relocated to Bangwe where he started his own business, selling second-hand phones at Bangwe Market.
On April 10 2006, he was stopped by two police officers and taken to Bangwe Police Station for questioning about a business associate.
“The police inquired about a certain person who was then unknown to me, claiming he had committed a series of armed robberies. It was only later that I learnt the person they were asking for was my customer who used another name,” he explains, his voice cracking with emotion.
The police held him in a police cell, saying he would only be released when he disclosed his associate’s hiding place.
Kudziwe claims that he was beaten with the butt of a rifle for three days and to this day, he cannot forget this brutal interrogation.
But despite being cleared by the police, Kudziwe could not be released as his lawyer had applied for bail at the High Court.
What followed was two months of detention in the police station. He was never informed of his right to remain silent, or any charges against him.
On 23 June, he was hauled up to the magistrate’s court. He had spent 1 776 hours in police detention, flagrantly over the maximum 48 hours guaranteed by the Constitution. He then learned for the first time that he was being charged with multiple murders.
Kudziwe’s first days in prison were, in his words, ‘unforgettable’. His clothes were stolen off his back. He was bewildered and alone and away from his family.
His wife could not cope with the separation. She left the family home and abandoned their children with his parents.
As the years wore on and negotiations progressed to secure his release, the prosecutor conceded there was little evidence to link him to the crimes.
However, in 2008, this all came undone. Through volunteer lawyers, he complained to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, who emphatically held that his incarceration violated his due process and fair trial rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and that he should be immediately released.
Strangely, government pushed ahead with a trial. His trial began in 2010 and finished in September 2012.
On September 27 last year, Kudziwe had his last day in court. The prosecution case was found to be inherently unreliable and the charges were thrown out.
“It took me a long time to believe that what the court had ordered would come to pass. I remember that even right there in court, I shed tears because I could not believe that after seven years, this day had finally come,” Kudziwe explains, his voice cracking with emotion.
But justice was not done—he had lost seven years of his life with no possibility of compensation. But an injustice had finally ended.
Kudziwe feels lucky as he at least had some legal representation.
But he is concerned that other prisoners have no representation and are convicted through their ignorance of the law and their rights.
Upon leaving prison, Kudziwe enrolled at Mpemba Staff Development Institute where he qualified as a paralegal officer. He has since been employed by the Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa), the human rights organisation that championed for his release.
“I was inspired by Chreaa’s passion and advocacy in ensuring that prisoners are aware of their rights. As such, I was constantly in touch with them when I was in prison. So, working with them when I was released was a natural choice,” he explains.
Yet, despite this injustice, Kudziwe remains positive and he has decided to use his anger more positively.
“I am moved by the time that people on remand wait for trial. It is time government and other stakeholders came together to set a maximum period between arrest and trial. We talk about fair trial and human rights for people suspected of committing crimes, but the period that some of these people spend waiting for trial is punishment in itself.
“It is like we forget that all these people are innocent until convicted by a court of law,” he says.
Kudziwe explains that he has learned more from the prison community than from the outside society.
“It is a place where you learn; you grow, have friends and share a laugh. I am just glad that I can now spend time with my two daughters and make up for the lost time. All I want for them is to grow up knowing they are well cared for and supported,” he says.
Out of Kudziwe’s adversity, and within a system of brutal injustice, has come leadership and empathy.