Journalist and documentary filmmaker Hopwell Chino’ono says the time he spent in prison hardened him and he is no longer afraid of being arrested for his activism.
Chino’ono (HC), who has been arrested several times for his Twitter posts exposing corruption in Zimbabwe, told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor that he will not be deterred by the targeted arrests because they were meant to silence him.
Below are extracts from the interview.
TN: Hopewell Chin’ono, welcome to In Conversation With Trevor.
HC: Trevor thank you very much. It is great to be here.
TN: Second time around. What I like about this is that this is face to face, not on Zoom like we did during Covid-19 time.
HC: That is true. That is very true.
TN: Hopewell, last time you were here you had not been arrested, and then you got arrested, and a lot of people...there was a sense out there that this show had contributed to your arrest.
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Do you want to clear the air? I didn’t cause or I was not part of your getting arrested.
HC: No that is not true.
I do not think you had any contribution to my arrest.
My arrest was premeditated by the state and by Zanu PF.
The warning shot came when Patrick Chinamasa, who was then the acting spokesperson for Zanu PF, had a press conference where he was asked by Blessed Mhlanga about my case.
He mentioned me by name, and warned me and said I should stop what I am doing and I am going to get into hot soup if I continue doing what I am doing.
So they had already planned that.
I think your show only helped people to understand the substance of the reporting that I was doing on the looting of public funds related to Covid-19.
TN: When we had that conversation I asked you, were you scared? Were you frightened that you might be arrested? And you made a very powerful statement.
I just want us to play the video so that people get a sense of what you said:
TN: Do you feel safe? We have heard Patrick Chinamasa calling a press conference and saying unkind words about you.
We have heard the Zanu PF youths doing the same thing. Do you feel safe?
HC: You know Trevor I have reached a point where I say to myself, when I am scared, terrified or living in fear, it makes no difference because if someone wants to get to me whether I am bold or whether I am scared, they will still get to me.
So I have decided to say I will just soldier on. Nobody’s safe at the moment if you criticise the government.
TN: So that is what you said, you were not scared.
Interestingly, as I was watching that video again, I remembered how scared I was when I got arrested the first time.
I had gone to Namibia for a media conference and I came back and I got home and I was told that they were looking for me and I ran away.
Eventually they caught up with me.
Now that you have been in prison, are you scared of being arrested or you have been immunised?
HC: No I am not scared of being arrested at all.
As I mentioned last time, you know my reporting as a journalist is part of my work and it is protected by the constitution.
The people who carry the burden of arresting me and jailing me was the State and the ruling party Zanu PF, which has captured state institutions and uses them to punish journalists who are exposing corruption or who are covering things that they do not want covered as happened again to Blessed Mhlanga and his colleague.
When I was first arrested, I knew that they were coming because not everyone in the system agrees with what is happening.
The system is not homogeneous, and I always tell people that do not insult everybody because not everyone agrees with what is happening.
So a day before, I was warned that they were coming. I was actually not staying at home, I was staying at the village.
So when I was told that they were coming I made sure that I was home so that when they came they would get me there.
The idea being that when you run away it seems like you have committed a crime, but I understand why you ran away because there is also the fear factor.
But in my case I just thought you know what this thing must come to a head, let them do what they want to do umm because they will do it anyway, even if I run away they will catch up with me.
I think the biggest problem of course for everyone around me was the fear factor.
People were worried. My sisters were saying you know do not say these things, look what has happened now.
TN: Family does feel pressure, isn't it? The extended family and friends.
HC: Indeed. The extended family feels the pressure, and sometimes you feel very sorry for them because it is like you are watching a movie.
These people are in a panic mode and you are not because you know exactly how the movie is going to play out.
You know that you are going to go to court, magistrates court.
You are going to be denied bail.
You know that you are going to go to the High Court. You know that if you are going to get bail it can only be in the High Court.
You know that if there is an instruction even at the High Court you are not going to get bail.
Like in the case of Job Sikhala, which is absolutely ridiculous, and his colleague...
HC: Yes. Where there is a brazen attitude, I mean they do not care about what the world thinks.
The constitution clearly says that bail is a right, and and they have been denied bail.
Job Sikhala, Godfrey Sithole and the other 15 Nyatsime supporters of CCC. They have been denied bail.
TN: What is the point? What do you think the government’s trying to achieve?
From what you are saying they do not care about what the world thinks. They are clearly damaging Brand Zimbabwe.
They are damaging the name of this country. Forget about Zanu PF?
HC: I do not think they care anymore about the damage that they are inflicting on the name Zimbabwe, Brand Zimbabwe.
I don't think they care anymore about what the world thinks of them, because if they did some of the things that they are doing are absolutely ridiculous.
Even Mugabe did not do some of the things, and Mugabe is the standard for bad governance.
Everywhere in the world you mention Mugabe, the first thing that comes to mind is bad governance.
The fact that when they came into power through the military coup we thought that they were going to be different, and they had an opportunity to do things differently.
Now my theory is that they are naturally incompetent, because they could be making more money than they are making today if they were doing things the right way.
They would not be inflicting damage to Brand Zimbabwe, and even brands Zanu PF and themselves in their individual capacities if they were doing the right thing.
So I do not think there is a normal human being who would want to inflict pain on themselves, if they know any other way, so I think that the whole thing is anchored on incompetence.
Corruption is there, looting of public funds is there, the plundering of the natural resources is there, but I think there are many states that we can look at where all those things happen, but because there is a an element of competence in how the government is being run things are not as bad as they are in Zimbabwe.
I mean we do not have water in our homes, we do not have medication in hospitals.
TN: No electricity, no roads...
HC: The list is long.
TN: I shared with you that when they we were looking for me I was afraid.
When finally they got me, initially was I did not know what was going to happen to me in prison and so forth, in detention. I went inside.
When I came out I was a changed person.
I was no longer scared, they had hit their best shot, and what else could they do to me?
So being in police detention actually changed me, it made me stronger, it made me actually realise that maybe I am fighting for a good cause, if I was not convinced now this is the right time.
I mean we are about two decades ago if not more, I mean instead 30 years ago.
Did prison change you? And if it did how did it change you?
HC: Prison definitely changed me. The first time when I was arrested on the 20th of July 2020, every process and procedure was new to me.
I had never been in police detention, I had never been arrested my whole life, I had never been in a court of law, I had never committed a crime which required me to go and be tried.
I had never been to prison.
So with each step there was an element of anxiety because you do not know what the next step is.
But the second time when I was arrested after I exposed that Henrietta Rushwaya was going to get bail unopposed, and the third time when they arrested me in January 2021 for something that I had not done, using a law that did not exist I was not bothered at all.
I was not bothered because I now understood that within the police service and within the prison service there are very good people in there.
It became much easier to understand that the fight against corruption, the fight against the looting of public funds, it is a fight that is not only benefiting those of us that are perceived to be middle class, but it is actually helping even civil servants, prison officers, because these prison officers and police officers would tell you their stories, they would tell you they are suffering and they would in so many cases tell you about what is happening in their families.
I mean when I was at Chikurubi Prison, we were of course not eating the food there, one, for security reasons, and second because it was just badly cooked...
TN: Terrible food.
HC: They boil beans with water, and they cook sadza and they give them that sadza with boiled beans and the gravy or soup is water, and they just add salt.
But the prison officers were eating that food, and some of them if not most of them, they take the beans back home and they would explain to me that I am taking these boiled beans home so that my wife can then cook it and spice it properly, and then that is our dinner.
So I realised that these people that are looking after us are actually suffering as well, and they understood our fight, that our fight is not about removing a government, our fight is about a fair society, our fight is about asking a government not to steal public funds that are meant to protect the vulnerable in our society.
TN: You say it changed you. In what way?
HC: It changed me in that I am not scared anymore.
As I said, the first time I was prepared, but there was an element of fear, but this time around the second time, the third time I was not bothered.
I have just come back from Europe where I was away for almost three months, and I was getting phone calls from people in the system to say why do you not just stay there?
Save yourself all this trouble, and I said no I am not bothered, I have not committed any crime.
“In Conversation With Trevor” is a weekly show broadcast on YouTube.com//InConversationWithTrevor. The conversations are broadcast to you by Heart and Soul Broadcasting Services