Lovemore Meya Features Writer
Barnabas Majarira lived a dangerous life. The 51-year-old was part of a six-men gang in 1998 that unleashed terror in residential areas of Harare and its environs. They also targeted highways, getting away with valuables and cash. The lanky man, however, regrets his dangerous past that continues to haunt him.
Starting his crime life at the deep end while at 35, Barnabas worked with his five accomplices, Norman Karimanzira, Gift Mwale, Jabulani Kongozhi, Gerald Koki and Ian Muteura.
Together, they committed more than 100 crimes involving carjacking and armed robbery.
“Those were the days”, reminisced Barnabas, “Our criminal voyage took place from 1998 to 2000 where we terrorised people through armed robbery and carjacking.”
He added: “We would raid our victims wielding top of the range guns including AK 47s, pistols and revolvers among other brands obtained from neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Mozambique,” said Barnabas.
Asked how they brought in the dangerous weapons, his account was chilling.
“We could move with a gait of a hungry lion through thick bushes circumventing borders and when we thought of going through check points, hiding them was our only option since the security could not conduct body search.
“And of the whole gang, I am the only surviving member. Some died in prison, others were shot dead shortly after their release for committing other heinous crimes,” he said.
Barnabas and his accomplices would rob people using tip offs from workers at certain companies or observing activities suggesting involvement of bulk cash transactions.
At one point, the gang walked away with more than ZW$10 million and US$300 000.
The now remorseful Barnabas gave a detailed account of his family life.
“I was staying in Greendale from 1996 to 1999, married to two wives and had three children, a girl and two boys, from different mothers.
“By that time I had bought properties in Beitbridge where my second wife stayed while the first was in South Africa,” he said.
However, as a man on a mission, Barnabas went on the run in 1999 leading to his first wife’s arrest in 2000 on allegations of carjacking.
The move was meant to trap him while his wife stayed one and half years in prison and was acquitted after a trial.
However, Barnabas was arrested on the morning of June 7, 2000 in Snake Park where he was in hiding.
On the fateful day, all seemed normal as he strode casually to buy a newspaper at Stop Over in the same location.
All hell broke loose on his return after police raided his premises and his brother-in-law (married from the same family) allegedly turned him in.
“The man owed me $12 000 and caused my arrest hoping he would get away with it during my incarceration.
“He collaborated with my first wife’s ex-boyfriend. He was bitter that I took his girlfriend and made all the frantic efforts to get me arrested,” said Barnabas.
Memories of his arrest are still fresh in his mind. He said his wives were unperturbed since they regarded his crimes as a normal profession.
“I was taken to Harare Central where I endured a week of severe torture including the use of shock sticks, button sticks, water bucket and suffocation (the most dreadful). They forced me to confess crimes I did not commit,” narrated Barnabas with a teary eye.
The aftermath is still haunting him as he is experiencing pain under the feet and knees where he was allegedly hit with empty soft drink bottles.
By that time only one of his accomplices had been arrested.
Barnabas was represented by Advocate Happious Zhou and his lawyer Mr Charles Chinyama during trials at Harare magistrates and High Court from June 2000 to July 2007.
His experience behind bars was never a stroll in the park, the time he termed “A hell on earth life”.
“At Central, I went through excruciating pain for the place was dirty, overcrowded and lice had a good bite of me. We had no jerseys in winter.
“Adjusting to the food rations served in prison was tough even though I was still getting some from home. I contracted tuberculosis and I felt homesick. It was psychological torture.”
The worst was to come after his transfer to Chikurubi Maximum prison in 2001 as he was a high risk inmate.
He said the place was clean but tight security became the order of the day.
“We were subjected to routine searches in cells including body searches and the number of visits from home was reduced to once every two weeks,” he said.
As the country went into economic downturn the prisons were not spared.
“Food rations were reduced and water was a nightmare as at one point we spent 49 days without it. I would get water from the courts during my trial days,” he said.
Those on medication were forced to insert tablets between morsels of Sadza as water woes took their toll.
This was the time diseases like pellagra became prevalent.
From 2001 to 2007, Barnabas suffered five relapses of TB, cryptic meningitis and most people who suffered from disease died in prison.
In the 2001, he was convicted of two counts of armed robbery at Harare Magistrates’ Court and sentenced to 15 years in prison, which he felt, was too severe, since he denied committing the crimes.
He was also convicted of four different offences at the High Court and was slapped with a 60-year-jail term.
At this stage, Barnabas had given up on life.
“My family and relatives sobbed after the judgment. It was like rubbing a pinch of salt on a fresh wound.”
The heavens, however, smiled on him in 2007 when 50 years of his sentence was reduced.
After writing a petition to the High Court citing severity of his sentence, 25 more years were quashed and he was left with a 25-year-jail term.
“I found Jesus in 2000 and was now a new person so whatever I did was guided by Him. Faith in Jesus gives a lot of hope.
“I just prayed hoping that one day I would test freedom again.
“I believe in the scriptures of Romans 8:28: ‘All things work together for good, for those who love God and who were called according to his purpose’.”
Barnabas said he developed a strong relationship with God and took the bold decision since no one could assist him be it his relatives or money.
A third of his sentence was suspended leaving him with 16 years eight months in prison.
In 2010, Barnabas developed sugar diabetes and almost died forcing him to write an appeal to President Mugabe in 2012 on medical grounds.
With only six years of his sentence left, his appeal was granted.
Barnabas tested the freedom he had been longing for in April this year.
Now that he is out, he regrets his actions.
He said: “I asked for forgiveness to all the people I wronged through the program ‘Another Chance’ and I was actually the first person to be premièred.
“I felt relieved after asking for forgiveness from the people I offended because no one else could hold a grudge against me.”
Acceptance in the society still remains a major set-back for ex-prisoners as they face discrimination and stigmatisation.
Barnabas looks up to his relatives and asks the community to give people like him another chance.
Now, Barnabas is the proud owner of “Chakhima Investiments” which makes and sells detergents.
He, however, bemoaned lack of support to ex-prisoners saying 77 percent of the released inmates during the Presidential parole were back in prison within a week.
“Without the support of government and the community, life will be very difficult to adjust for ex-convicts because of the high unemployment rate.
No one is willing to employ them. I would like to thank Free Divine International Trust (FDIT) for their effort in accepting ex-prisoners and giving them a life,” he said.
Barnabas says committing crime is something he has discarded into the dust bin.