The Sunday News

Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter 

WHEN he speaks about cars, 29-year-old Mthunzi Sibanda speaks with all the confidence and clarity one would expect from a holder of a Class Two certificate in motor mechanics. 

Displayed in front of him are the “intestines” of a car, ripped from a vehicle for an exhibition as it had been decided that bringing a whole vehicle would have taken up too much space in the modest tent where Sibanda and other prisoners are showcasing their work. 

In that tent, beautiful works of art, seemingly carved out by those with delicate hands and a rich imagination, sit next to hand-woven baskets and kitchen utensils fashioned from what looks like the simplest of material. 

From the people who buzz around these works, it is clear that these are the work of hands that care about beauty and perfection. Eyes can only admire and no one seems to care that the same hands that made these masterpieces may have once upon a time stolen, maimed or even worse. 

Most of these skilful inmates show a disinterest in their stalls after a few people pass by to inquire about the beauty that lies before them. This is not the case with Mthunzi Sibanda. 

He never seems to tire, never seems to get bothered about the task of explaining the same thing over and over again to everyone that visits his little open air workshop. In front of him is a car battery and it powers the various lights and switches that are connected through the cables that snake over the table. 

“This is the lighting system of the car. We’ve got a battery here and different switches. We’ve got headlights, stop lights, reverse and a fuse box here,” he says to a woman seemingly mesmerised by his mastery of a car’s insides. He is eloquent and expressive and leaves every visitor searching for more questions to throw his way, even if it is just to keep him talking about something that he seems to find joy in talking about. 

None of them ask him what he is in for and one may wonder if they did they would still hold him in the same esteem. Sibanda is, after all, a rapist. Five years ago, he was convicted for sexually assaulting a woman and since that day he had been counting down the days to his release. He counts every week and month.  

“I was convicted for rape. I was initially given 15 years but the prison takes a third of my sentence so effectively I have to serve 10 years. I have served six years and eight months so I will be out in 2022,” he told Sunday Life.

Engrossed in explaining the workings of a car Sibanda looks like any regular mechanic. Only the white prisoners’ uniform marks him as one who is serving a sentence. But he committed the crime and he is not shy to admit that he did. This might actually be helping in his rehabilitation by the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS). 

Antonia Abbey, a social psychologist at Wayne State University found that young men who expressed remorse were less likely to offend the following year, while those who blamed their victim were more likely to do it again. Sibanda claims that his own relationship with his victim is good. 

“When I was arrested in 2014 my victim actually came and we sat down for discussions with other members of our families. So far since I have been here she has come to see me three times so I’m sure there will be reconciliation and forgiveness when I eventually get out. Our relationship at this stage is good,” he said.

Sibanda still remembers threads of his earlier life before imprisonment and conviction, threads that he wishes to reconnect when he eventually gets released.  

“I used to drive a family car. I’m initially from How Mine but I stayed in Lobengula, Nkulumane 12 and Pumula when I was in Bulawayo. I never had the slightest interest in motor mechanics before I came here. Fortunately for me at least I was a driver when I was on the outside. But I was just interested in driving the cars and thought that the mechanics around how they operated were just too complicated. I thought I could never master it but when I came in here that’s when I started to have an interest. Now the passion and interest I have in a car is just incredible. I cannot even describe it but if you give me a car I can demonstrate the kind of passion I have,” he said. 

Three out of four sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim but it was different for Sibanda who did not know his victim before that fateful day. 

“She was not someone that I knew before I did it. She was just a stranger and it happened in How Mine where I come from not in Bulawayo where I was staying and working,” he said. 

According to one of the men who took the task of rehabilitating the sexual offender, Principal Correctional Officer Michael Makumure, Sibanda is one of the lucky few who have a shot at redemption as he has not been abandoned by his family despite his heinous act. 

“The problem with our inmates is that when they get incarcerated their relatives abandon them. They cease to become people to their loved ones and it becomes difficult to get support for them for things like school fees and other things they require for their academic advancement,” said the foreman of the Motor Mechanic Section.

For one to sit for any Motor Mechanical exams, identity documents are required and while this might be simple enough for other students, it is not so for prisoners. 

 “Most of our inmates are arrested without their identity documents on them,” said Rehabilitation Officer and the Assistant Principal Correctional Officer at Khami Prison Zimunhu Beliam. In fact, most of them don’t have simple things like birth certificates. So it becomes difficult because you don’t get to sit to be tested without your birth certificate. So we have to contact family members and see if they can get us those documents but it’s tricky because some would have lost interest in the inmate’s life when they got arrested. However, we do facilitate for inmates’ families to get identity documents for them. 

With a chance for a second shot at life despite committing what is regarded as a barbaric and, to some, an unforgivable act, Sibanda continues to show gratitude to his family and prisoner officers. 

“I’m proud of what I have become and in fact I would like to thank the whole ZPCS for what they have done in my life. In teaching me how to fix cars they ignited a passion in me that has changed my life. My relatives have also been a great help because they paid for my school fees and registration which is not something that always happens when someone is in prison,” he said.

The fate of his victim is unknown. The scars that he inflicted might yet still define her life. She remains, perhaps for her own good, faceless. For Sibanda however, his eye is now firmly fixed on life after prison. 

“My aim when I get out of here is to start my own company and become a teacher in my own right and pass on the knowledge that I have gained here. I want to be a lecturer and that’s my goal when I get out of here but in the meantime I would like to run my own business,” he said.