Victims of Torture: ‘They didn’t want to listen to what I said’
Mxolisi Siluma from Zimbabwe remembers police beating him until he passed out
Mxolisi Siluma will never forget the sound of his father’s screams echoing down the corridor of the police station in his home township in southern Zimbabwe. He instantly recognised the sound of his father’s voice but was unable to reach him.
“I didn’t see what was happening but I heard the screams. You could tell he was in pain.”
Siluma says he and his father, who ran a small printing business, were arrested by government officials after they were accused of distributing political leaflets for the opposition. Two days after his father’s arrest, police turned up at Siluma’s home.
Siluma says his father had never been involved in politics and denied all accusations of aiding the opposition when questioned by police. “After they beat my father up they came to me and asked: ‘What were you doing with your father?’ I said: ‘We’re not doing that, we have never done that.’ They didn’t want to listen to what I was saying.”
He says he remembers the police beating him until eventually he passed out. He woke up to discover he had been transferred to a mental hospital. He would spend the next year in solitary confinement.
Siluma is a Zimbabwean asylum seeker currently living in direct provision in Wexford. Shortly after he arrived in Ireland two years ago he got in touch with Spirasi, a Dublin-based NGO which supports survivors of torture.
Siluma, who travels to Dublin once a month to meet with his social worker at Spirasi, agreed to speak about his experiences in Zimbabwe to raise awareness of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture which is marked each year on June 26th. This week also marks the 30th anniversary of the UN convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment.
“It’s a big incident that happened in my life that I don’t think I will ever forget,” says the 38-year-old as he settles into his chair at the Spirasi office in north Dublin. His voice remains calm and measured as he describes the anguish of being locked in a cell and cut off from society.
“It was nearly a year. I wasn’t kept with other people and I was denied access to speak with anyone. I was denied medical assistance. I had a broken arm and was not given any help. I always told myself that I would get away. That’s what I promised myself: I will go home.”
Siluma managed to escape from the hospital after a year but arrived home to discover the house was empty. His partner and child had disappeared and he later discovered his father had died. Distraught by his father’s death and fearing for his safety, Siluma retrieved his father’s savings which were hidden in the family home and travelled to South Africa.
“When you are in Zimbabwe the easiest way to get away is through South Africa. For South Africa you don’t even need a passport, you can bribe your way across.”
Siluma then paid a Nigerian smuggler €3,000 to arrange a fake passport and a plane ticket out of Africa. “You know [Robert] Mugabe – the Zimbabwean president – he’s got so many spies working for him in southern Africa... in countries like South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique. So there is no way you can say you are safe if you are in South Africa.”
In March 2015, he arrived in Ireland and claimed asylum. After a few months he met a young women from Zimbabwe. “That’s when I can say I started to forget what happened. When I met her, that’s when I started to see that I had a life to give.”
Siluma hopes his application for refugee status will be accepted as soon as possible so he can move on with his life and begin working again. He struggles with the monotony of living in direct provision and hopes to train as a nurse once his papers come through.
He gains real comfort from his monthly meetings with his Spirasi social worker and speaks highly of the group’s guidance and support during his time in Ireland. Asked what advice he would give other survivors of torture, Siluma says the only way to move forward is to focus on the future. “People must forget what has happened and try and live their life.”
If you are a survivor of torture or know someone who has experienced torture you can contact Spirasi on (01) 838 9664