While for many Zimbabweans, 1990 is remembered for the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap), for Edmos Hadebe, then a 25-year-old young man who was enjoying life as an officer with the Zimbabwe National Army, it was the year to forget after he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging.
Edmos had, on the day that changed his life, gone for a beer drink in Makokoba, Bulawayo, with two friends who were also employed in the army. A brawl ensued and the trio assaulted a fellow imbiber who later died.
They were arrested and after trial, the trio was found guilty and placed on death row.
Since then, he has been shuttling between Zimbabwe’s maximum prisons waiting for his day to meet his maker, but fortunately he was one of the more than 2000 prisoners who were pardoned by President Mugabe and released last month.
A lot has happened since 1990, the list is endless, Zimbabwe went through an economic downturn which saw inflation spiraling out of control and the introduction of various local currencies under a cocktail of names such as bearer cheques and agro cheques. Today, we are using the multi-currency system.
Political parties like the MDC were born. Before he went to prison, there were no cellphones.
Edmos, unfortunately was never free to witness all those changes.
Last week, our sister paper Sunday News caught up with Edmos (now 51) at his sister’s house in Pumula where he recounted his life in jail, the changes that the country has gone through and how he is trying to adjust to life after jail.
“I was a young man in the army and that day we had an argument with the deceased and I found myself committing the heinous crime, it could have been avoided but peer pressure got me to where I was these past years. As people who were in the army kwakulokuzitshela (we were proud) and we ended up finding ourselves in serious trouble,” he said.
In 1991, Edmos said he was taken to the condemned section of Harare Central Prison where he served time, condemned in that he had been seen as unfit for human interaction and was awaiting the day the hang man was going to come and take away his life.
He recalls prison wardens who would occasionally take him and other condemned prisoners for weighing so that when the day finally came, they would put the appropriate weights that would take their lives. This however, did not deter him from believing that he would one day be free.
“I always told fellow inmates and prison wardens that I was not going to die in prison, and they scoffed at me for saying that considering that I had been placed on death row. But something within me kept me going and I just felt that I was going to be a free man one day,” he said.
Edmos was moved to Chikurubi Maximum prison where he also served time. He was eventually moved to Khami Maximum prison where he said he had an encounter with the Lord.
“After sentencing I realised the gravity of what I had done and I decided to turn to the Lord for salvation. I had all the time to read and learn about the Bible and I gave my life to Christ while in prison through the help of Praise and Worship Church. I became a pastor while in prison.”
Armed with the zeal to live and improve his life, Edmos also continued with his education. In 1999, he wrote an additional seven subjects at O-level and passed.
Edmos says that last year in December, he got wind of the fact that he was listed for pardoning but he doubted it. However, later during the year, it was confirmed that he was one of those who would be pardoned. The wait was worth it and on 25 May – Africa day – he walked out of confinement, tasting freedom after 26 years in jail.
“I always felt it that I would not die in prison. I declared that I would not and when I was released I thanked God for having kept me safe all those years. I am also glad that I lived in harmony with prison wardens and fellow inmates such that my life was simple.
One would mistake Edmos for the average working man as he is very fit. He says he owes his health status to regular exercises and acceptance of his situation.
“Each day I was in prison, I took time to exercise under the supervision of wardens. Greatest of all is that I accepted my situation, I made each day count and I survived. I had to adjust my life to suit prison conditions and the food and I came out fit and alive,” he said.
Local prisons have been facing challenges of food provisions, uniforms, medication and blankets. Sadly, Edmos’ co-accused died in 1999 from illness while the third one was given a lesser sentence which he served and was released. Asked on his future plans, Edmos’ says he intends to get married.
“I left for prison as a single man, and I still am. I have no children too but now that I am released, I also want to start a family and have children. As a pastor our church requires that a pastor be married and one day I will do that,” he said.
He thinks that finding formal employment might be a challenge because of his criminal record and so he intends to start his own farming project.
“I want to start a piggery project in my rural home Kezi.”
Edmos’ sister Thokozile, who welcomed him from prison, said she was still to come to terms with his release as she thought he was going to die in prison.
“I cannot believe that he is finally out. As a man who had been sentenced to death, I assumed we would never see him free again but through God’s grace, he is out and staying with me. I want to treasure each moment I have with him because he was arrested when I was still a child, now I am 35 years old,” she said.
She said Edmos would visit Kezi to meet the rest of the clan and they are hoping to have a big ceremony to celebrate his release.
Usually when inmates are released from prison, they face stigma and discrimination but as for Edmos who says he is now a reformed man, he is optimistic that he will fit in.
“I actually feel my life story will change the lives of many people.”
On the overall changes that the country has undergone, Edmos admits that sometimes he gets lost when he walks in Bulawayo because he cannot remember some of the places.
Bishop Trust Sinj of Praise and Worship Centre says the church has welcomed Edmos. They are assisting him to integrate back into the community.
“We are working on drilling a borehole in his rural home and start a piggery and market gardening project for him. Ex-convicts have a challenge of finding their feet once released because they have no means of sustaining themselves which can push them back into crime so we want Edmos to start afresh as he is a transformed man now. We are giving him the best we can,” said Bishop Sinj.
Edmos says the biggest lesson he learnt during his 26 years of incarceration is to respect others and live in harmony. As he passes through some of the bars where he used to drink beer, Edmos says he feels no desire to go back to the life of booze.
“All I want now is to re-start my life and live a peaceful and crime free life.