In Conversation With Trevor: Judith Todd offers a glimpse into Rhodesia, detentions

In court in 1964 I was very optimistic about the future, so I took the occasion to pledge myself under the sentence of the law and order maintenance act, myself and my allegiance to Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwean author and former political activist, Judith Todd (JT) said detention, restriction and imprisonment without trial was the norm in the country under the rule of Ian Smith. Todd, the daughter of the late former Rhodesian prime minister, Sir Garfield Todd told Alpha Media Holdings chairman, Trevor Ncube (TN) on the programme In Conversation with Trevor that her first prison experience was in Marondera where she was kept in isolation at an African men only facility and then went on hunger strike before she was moved to Chikurubi in Harare where there were facilities for force feeding. Below are excerpts of the interview.

TN: Judith Todd, welcome to In Conversation With Trevor.

JT: Thank you Trevor, it is good to be with you again.

TN: I am delighted Judith that we created the time to do this conversation, there is so much to talk about. Your life is an amazing life in so many respects. There is just so much for people to learn from. You said Judith, that Zimbabwe has been your full-time commitment since 1965? You also said you have been married to Zimbabwe since 1965? Unpack that for us?

JT: I was lucky enough to be born at Dadaya Mission nearly 79 years ago, so it is not since 1965 only, it is for much longer. To be brought up in a vibrant community which included people like Ndabaningi Sithole. So, for example, when the Rhodesian Front were coming to power and were looking at people as potential enemies I actually had the privilege of knowing them as champions of what would one day be Zimbabwe. So what could be a better background?

TN: When you say you have been married to Zimbabwe for that long, how has that marriage turned out?

JT: It has had its ups and downs. Of course, there was Rhodesia before Zimbabwe, and that was a bit tough, but it has been a life of consequences. For example, when I was at the university with other people who turned out to be illustrious Zimbabweans in the future, like Byron Hove and company, we had a demonstration in 1964 against the banning of a Daily News we had then. That led to arrest and being found guilty through the Law and Order Maintenance Act, which was in force then. It led to the courts and it actually led me to getting a scholarship at Columbia University, if you can work that out. There was a benefactor of what was then a vibrant magazine, the Central African Examiner, called Harold Hockshield. In court in 1964 I was very optimistic about the future, so I took the occasion to pledge myself under the sentence of the law and order maintenance act, myself and my allegiance to Zimbabwe. The Magistrate was of course very angry, he said that was an almost revolutionary statement and he did not mean the word revolutionary in a praise worthy way. Anyway, this little magazine, the Central African Examiner, reprinted that speech of mine.

TN: Do you remember what you said Judith?

JT: I said under the sentence of law of the Law and Order Maintenance Act, I take this opportunity to pledge myself, my life, my ambitions to Zimbabwe, and I meant every word.

TN: Which is essentially throwing your full weight and whatever you were behind the liberation struggle?

JT: Absolutely, 1964 that was. So anyway, Harold Hockshield saw that speech in the Central African Examiner and he actually printed a whole lot of copies of it and sent it to friends and contacts of his all around the world. As a result of it I was offered a scholarship to Columbia University. I went off, very happy and privileged to be there. I went off at the beginning of 1965, but what happened in October 1965, my father was detained on our farm and we did not know this then but I think it was a precursor to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by Ian Smith and company, and I think that they thought he might try to form a government in exile if they continued with that illegal act. So they just got him out of the way. There I was at Columbia University. He (my father), was scheduled to go and speak at  Edinburgh University and as he was arrested by the police just before he got to the airport in Salisbury, word got out and Edinburgh University contacted me as asked if I would take my father’s place.

TN: Of course, your father was Sir Garfield Todd, the Prime Minister of the then Rhodesia, from 1952 to 1958, and that basically you ended up not graduating from Columbia? Or you went back to graduate at some point?

JT: Well what happened was I went to take my father’s place at this Edinburgh University function, and by that time Rhodesia was very much in the spotlight. He (my father) was the first Commonwealth ex-Prime Minister to be detained, so that in itself guaranteed publicity. So, there was a lot of publicity surrounding me as a consequence, and because of that I was offered by key publishers a contract to a book. I said to them I could not as I was still a student at Columbia University. I then went back to Columbia and UDI was declared, and I was in such agony about our country. Everything was being closed down; it was even becoming an offence to listen to the BBC. So many friends were locked up, it was a state of emergency as you know. I went to the Dean of the Faculty at Columbia University and I told him I did not think I could stay there and I thought I needed to go home because at that stage I thought all Zimbabweans who could should go back to resist this illegal action. I asked him what he thought. He said there are so many graduates of Columbia who would give their eye and teeth to be offered a contract to do a book, go back and do your book, go to Rhodesia, so I did. My first book was called Rhodesia. I was at home with my parents, and of course they saw what I was writing and they thought it would not be a good idea for me to stay in Rhodesia when it was published, and even to get it out of Rhodesia was a difficulty. Fortunately, an Anglican Priest helped us and he got it out under his robes, those robes are very useful.

TN: You spoke about your marriage with Zimbabwe, to Zimbabwe, being a harsh one at times? You were arrested a number of times? House arrest, prison, with your father Sir Garfield Todd in a different prison and places. You were restricted in your home with him, you could not go 800 metres away from your home? Talk to us about that experience and how you survived through those arrests and that detention? Talk to us about that?

JT: Detention, restriction and imprisonment without trial was becoming a norm in this country, and so many people that I knew, leaders in fact had been detained while I was at university. A group of us were lucky enough to go to these prisons and visited Joshua Nkomo, Jane Ngwenya, all of the others there and the Chinamanos, etcetera. We knew about it (detention), and being detained at home of course was a luxury. My first prison, Marondera, was an experience because it was a male African prison and I had to be kept in isolation, so I was put in their high security cell and then I went on hunger strike and then I had to be moved to a place where they had facilities for force-feeding which was Chikurubi. That was educational itself because Marondera prison was quite crude, the wing that I was put in at Chikurubi was for white female prisoners and was quite luxurious. I had a bed, mattress and eventually a mosquito net.

TN: In prison?

JT: In prison. I was being as it were, served by women and they were told not to talk to me, but they got to know I was now there because I was on hunger strike and something was going to happen about the hunger strike. Their attitudes were lovely, some said please won’t you eat for me. Another was of great help, she said these whites are getting very worried and so with her help I continued. That was the worst time in prison, the force-feeding was terrible, I cannot tell you, it involved so many people.

TN: So you decided you were not going to eat, you were going to go on hunger strike?

JT: Until I was taken to court and charged with a crime. We were locked in like most other people without charge.

TN: How long did your hunger strike last?

JT: Quite short actually, I think it was about 4-5 days. Refusing food is one thing, force-feeding is another. Force-feeding is one of the worst things that can happen to you.

TN: Talk to us about that, the force-feeding?

JT: Well, the person in charge was someone called Dr Baker-Jones, I knew his name from the press because Leopold Takawira had died in prison of undiagnosed diabetes, and Robert Mugabe had through his lawyers pressed for an inquest and a court case. At that court case, which reported in the papers, it turned out that Dr Baker-Jones basically had been negligent, but his excuse was that he thought that Africans did not like to give substances from their bodies into the hands of an enemy, which shows what his relationship was like with these prisoners. When I met him and I knew that he was going to be in charge of the force-feeding I was scared. Then the other personnel there, especially this medical sister were very hostile. They asked why I was there and I said I was on hunger strike. She said did I think anyone knew I was there and I said yes I know who signed my detention order, and she said the person who signed the order is as much responsible for me having been in that prison as the minister of Health is for the rats in Harare hospital. That was the kind of atmosphere.

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