‘I was stripped before women’

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Lupane Roman Catholic priest Father Marko Mnkandla Monday said he was stripped in the presence of two female police officers and a female accused person following his arrest and subsequent detention two weeks ago.

The clergyman had been arrested for allegedly holding a political rally disguised as church service for Gukurahundi survivors and victims without the consent of the police.

Mnkandla was arrested on April 13, two days before National Healing co-minister Moses Mzila-Ndlovu was also nabbed over similar allegations.

He said a group of eight police officers in a car with concealed number plates arrived at his home at about 7pm to arrest him for holding the Mass.

“I heard someone knocking at the gate and when I came out I saw a group of police officers,” said Mnkandla. “They told me I was being arrested for holding a meeting earlier in the day. I told them that I did not hold a meeting but a church Mass and in any case there were police officers present at the Mass so they should have arrested me then.’’

However, he said, the police officers were in an uncompromising mood and would not listen to his side of the story.

“The officers were in a very foul mood so I told them that I needed to change from my shorts into my long trousers and went back to the house,” said Mnkandla.

“As I was zipping my trousers, I heard furious knocks at my door and the police officers forced their way into my house and handcuffed me.” The man of the cloth was taken to Lupane Police Station, where he found two female police officers and another woman who was under arrest for a different charge.

“The officers asked how many trousers I was wearing and I told them that I had one. At that moment one of them unzipped my trousers and pulled them down in front of the female officers and the other woman,” he said.

Mnkandla said he was then dragged to a cell with urine on the floor and the following morning, “a group of plainclothes police officers opened the door and started verbally abusing me, calling me all sorts of names.

“They ordered me to toyi toyi saying Independence Day was approaching. I complied, but then stopped after a while. They ordered me to do press-ups, but I refused and one of them said they would fix me. I had not eaten when I was arrested and only ate when members of my congregation brought me food on Thursday afternoon. I was also denied my medication for pneumonia.”

But the officer commanding Matabeleland North police, Senior Assistant Commissioner Edmore Veterai, dismissed Mnkandla’s claims saying: “Isn’t it you heard the President (Robert Mugabe) saying Catholic priests should desist from politics?

He (Mnkandla) is lying, he is a politician. We never do such things at our stations.”

Mnkandla said he was taken to a cell in Tsholotsho where the conditions were equally deplorable and then taken back on Tuesday to Lupane where he met Mzila-Ndlovu.

“I did not know that Mzila-Ndlovu had been arrested until the day we appeared in court together,” he said.

“It is in Hwange where we were put in leg irons and cuffed together. When we complained that the leg irons were hurting us, the officers would just bark at us.”

Mnkandla said even after they had been granted bail, the police still put them in leg irons.

The two were detained in Hwange even after the bail ruling as part of their conditions included surrender of their passports which they did not have with them at the time.