On Tuesday this week, a Harare court ordered that Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s estranged wife Marry Mubaiwa be locked up in remand prison for the next 10 days.
Ostensibly so that prison doctors can examine her to see if she is mentally fit to stand trial for allegedly attempting to kill him while he was in a South African hospital.
This case is getting stranger by the day. The day before her incarceration, two experts hired by the State gave conflicting evidence about her health status. Now the court wants more doctors to help it make a decision.
Marry’s own doctors have repeatedly failed to submit her medical report, allegedly because they are terrified of her husband, the former army commander, who is also Health minister. The court order would make sense if Marry’s current health status was a secret. It is not. On several occasions, Marry has been wheeled to court on a stretcher and with medical drips attached to her body. She has been denied a chance to see her children for two years now.
In fact, one of the State experts pointed out in her report to the court that her poor mental state can be attributed to being denied access to her three children for over two years.
While there is nothing wrong with the need for her to be examined, the issue is that Marry is visibly unwell, and the medical examination could still be done outside jail.
Pictures of her festering wounds are viral on social media spaces. It is public knowledge that she suffers from lymphedema.
She has made passionate pleas to women groups, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, First Lady Auxillia and Zimbabweans in general to assist her as she is suffering physically, emotionally and legally.
Of course, Marry is being arraigned before the courts over serious allegations of attempting to kill her estranged husband, assaulting her housemaid and money-laundering. But these allegations are yet to be proven and she remains innocent in the eyes of the law. And like everyone else in the world accused of whatever crime, her rights should be respected too.
This makes the decision by magistrate Lazini Ncube to send Marry to remand prison for 10 days questionable. It seems that issues of her ill-health and bad jail conditions, which could actually worsen her health, are being overlooked for political expediency.
It is also very worrying that different women’s groups in the country, that are being funded to fight for women’s rights, have been mum about Marry’s ordeal. Where are the women’s groups when one woman is being treated like the worst criminal?
While some organisations such as the Women’s Academy for Leadership and Excellence, Female Prisoners Support Trust, Economic Justice for Women’s Project and the Chitungwiza Residents Trust have expressed concern, the prevailing narrative is one of indulgent quietness.
November 25 is fast approaching, and the country will join the world to celebrate 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.
If a once powerful female like Marry can be abused publicly, what about the ordinary woman in the rural areas — the abuse could be worse. Marry’s ordeal certainly sets a wrong precedent.
She is physically suffering, deprived of liberty and access to health, her children, and this is not only against our cultural values and humanity, but against the law too!