Review of Let Conscience Be My Guide - In Touch with Church and Faith

Weekend Gazette
New Chinodya book launched
Stanley Kwenda

AUTHOR Shimmer Chinodya recently celebrated the launch of his latest novel, Chairman of Fools, at Delta Gallery where a host of fellow writers, book publishers and friends crowded into the courtyard, eager to lay their hands on the book. The novel is Chinodya’s eighth in as many years. His other books are Dew in the Morning, Child of War, Harvest of Thorns, Can We Talk and other stories, Farai’s Girls and Tale of Tamari. Chairman of Fools examines the plight of a successful writer and professor of literature, Farai Chari, whose confidence is under threat. He feels the pull of tradition and culture and the hollowness of
middleclass aspirations in a cruel country. He yearns for a society free of gender bias.

This book mirrors a society at war with itself characterised by political bigotry and societal division. Let us hail Chinodya, who has managed to rise out of the quagmire and persevere to come up with such a beautiful book at a time when others are failing,” said writer Musaemura Zimunya. A short story anthology, Writing Now, which features works by both established and new writers, was launched at the same occasion, which was hosted by Weaver press. The book is a sequel to the award-winning Writing Still, a collection of stories depicting contemporary Zimbabwean life and concerns. Among some of the writers who contributed works in the anthology are journalists Stanley Mupfudza and Bill Saidi who wrote Forever Haunted by Rita’s Eyes and A Fine Day for a Funeral respectively.

It is a brave collection of short stories that squares up to the challenges of Africa’s current political climate,” said Sarah Kiguwa of the Mail and Guardian. Meanwhile Chairman of Fools received rave reviews at the world’s biggest book showcase, the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. Publishers in Europe have expressed their desire to translate the book into German and French.

NUMBER 67, 7 APRIL 2006
An Anthology of Prison Writings
Edited by Geoffrey Bould
Weaver Press, Harare, Zimbabwe

This volume of 294 pages is highly recommended to teachers and preachers. This is not a theoretical treatise about the role of our conscience in our lives, but a practical demonstration of how a conscience works. About 200 testimonies are presented in this book. As our conscience is challenged every day to speak and act on behalf of the poor and downtrodden we may be inspired by the courage of those witnesses who made conscience their guide. Here a few excerpts: MESSAGES FROM PRISON (from Conscience be my Guide)

Gertrude Mthombeni - a Zimbabwean trade unionist and political activist ........We had been forced to lie on the ground while being beaten with electric cord, sjambocks, sticks, butts of guns, and then we were thrown into the police cell ˆ five of us women together. When the police learned from our lawyer that I
was a senior party official, war vets and CIO operatives took me out of the cell at night for interrogation, asking me about MDC policies and threatening to rape me and take me to their torture camp if I didn‚t resign from the MDC. I knew I couldn‚t do that as it would be selling out. I had to remain strong for the
other women who were junior to me in the party and younger, and I gained strength from the knowledge that what I was doing was right. My interrogators showed by their questions that they were the ones who were afraid . We were transferred handcuffed and in leg irons from Nkayi to Khami Prison in
Bulawayo. We were all kept together in one cell. We prayed together and managed to comfort those with serious injuries, which were not reated until we were released on bail seven days later. It was my faith in God which kept me strong, and the knowledge that freedom is only gained at a price, a price which I felt I could pay. (86)

Luiz Perez Aguirre (born 1941), a Uruguayan Jesuit priest
......Torture was a sophisticated technique, and kind of diabolic because they work in a very scientific way. They always follow a certain pattern. They started with psychological pressure, with threats and things like that. Even the imprisonment situation was really harsh. They hang you for many hours, mainly
from your hands and feet, put together. You stay there for many times, and then because you are upside down you lose consciousness. After that they start on a new technique. They submerge your head under water till you suffocate and pass out. When you have recovered they do it again. They go on and on. It is terrible. Also they use the picana electrica, an electrical tool that they use mainly on the genitals. I have all over my body the marks of torture. I think that a spiritual training is really important and I always say that I owe to the Jesuit training my capacity for resisting. You are able to control yourself spiritually and you are able to discern in each moment what you have to do and you get to know your capacities and your limits and also your possibilities. You get to know very profoundly yourself, examining every day your conscience and that helped me very much in those days, yes. (143-144)

Dr Lovemore Madhuku, a lawyer and chairperson of the National ConstitutionalAssembly, Zimbabwe
......The NCA started an education programme about the need for a new constitution and backed this up with peaceful demonstrations. It was then that I began to be repeatedly arrested. Sometimes they got wind of a meeting or a demonstration before it took place and they came for me. At other times they
would come when the meeting or demonstration was in progress. Or they would say they were not informed about the speakers. I became fully identified with the cause, inspired by the feeling that what we were doing was right and convinced that I had no alternative but to be engaged in this new struggle.
I soon found that I had crossed the threshold of fear in the sense that I became strong through resisting. You cannot theorise about these things and say I can face the police. No, you just get involved and then you face the situation at the time. Sometimes when you alert people to the risks they say it is not worth
it. But it is worth it. Until things happen you don‚t know. Once I was badly beaten up and thrown to one side. I found I had no feeling of fear. Then you discover it is worth it. There was another time when we were marching towards Parliament and there were all these police with dogs. I cannot believe the
strength I found. We just went on marching.

(169 /170) Giacomo Gardin - a Jesuit in Albania March 1950
......It is the end of the winter and we are returned to work. Our destination is no longer the swamps, but the construction site of the railroad in central Albania. The work has changed, as has the face of the countryside, but the treatment is the same ˆ brutal and inhuman. As in the beginning, so now,
oppressed by fatigue and malnutrition. I am assaulted by the feeling of being a priest who does not exercise his vocation, feeling completely lost. Doubts circulate through my mind , as to why I was ordained a priest only to find myself confronted by my present situation. An attack of anxiety in a moment. I realise I can do much through my mere presence and my capacity as a priest and Jesuit, here, in this place of torment and martyrdom. This experience teaches me more every day. A word of relief, of consolation, in passing by someone, whose strength sapped, has fallen down not only physically, but spiritually as well, hating everything and everyone; a sweet word and the touch of a gentle hand which gives me the opportunity to strengthen the belief in god and the Faith, for a suffering Muslim; the tenderness in a small piece of bread, taken from my daily portion and given to a fellow prisoner whose bread has been denied - all these excite my soul in the monotonous passage of days and months, and
brightening the image of a new ministry. I feel uplifted, if not sanctified. So I am not a lost one, after all.

(231/232) Henry Thoreau, an American writer (1817 ˆ 62), who was once briefly imprisoned
for refusing pay poll tax. Thus the State, never intentionally, confronts a man‚s sense, intellectual or
moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.

(137)Adelaide Hautval (born 1906), a French Protestant doctor, writing about her time in Auschwitz concentration camp: I;m sure that all the terrible things done in the word begin with small acts of
cowardice.You only have to be indoctrinated about something for months, for years, to end
by believing it.

(C) Jesuit Communications, MMIV

Review of Let Conscience Be My Guide - World Press Review

From World Press Review, 26 March

Under Siege: Zimbabwe's Human Rights Activists

Raymond Majongwe

Ambrose Musiyiwa

In December, Raymond Majongwe became the third critic of Zimbabwean
President Robert G. Mugabe's government to be placed under virtual country
arrest when security agents seized his passport. Earlier that same month,
authorities had seized the passports of two other government critics:
newspaper owner, Trevor Ncube; and Movement for Democratic Change official,
Paul Themba Nyathi. Majongwe, who is secretary general of the Progressive
Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) and a general council member of the
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), was returning from an
International Labor Organization workshop on H.I.V. and AIDS in Nigeria when
immigration officials at the Harare International Airport approached him and
told him they were withdrawing his passport. He says that although no
explanation was given for withdrawing the passport, the move did not
surprise him: "It did not surprise me because this regime is determined to
thwart all dissenting voices."

Majongwe has first hand experience of how the government of President Mugabe
deals with its critics. In October 2002 he was arrested twice following a
national teachers strike launched by the PTUZ He was first arrested on Oct.
9 and charged under Section 17 of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA)
for allegedly disrupting classes and threatening teachers. The Public Order
and Security Act was enacted in January 2002 and it imposes severe
restrictions on civil liberties and criminalizes a wide range of activities
associated with freedom of assembly, movement, expression and association.
The Act makes it an offence punishable with imprisonment or a fine for "any
person who, acting in concert with one or more other persons, forcibly
disturbs the peace, security or order of the public or invades the rights of
other people." The Act violates Zimbabwe's obligations under international
human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

Following his 2002 arrest, Majongwe was held in police custody for 48 hours,
during which time he was badly assaulted by police officers, sustaining
injuries to one of his eyes, both his arms and several ribs. He did not
receive medical treatment until his release on Oct. 11. On Oct. 16 he was
re-arrested for allegedly disrupting activities at Harare schools by
purportedly trying to force teachers into joining the strike. He was taken
to Harare Central police station and later transferred to Chitungwiza police
station. From there he was driven to a place outside town, where he was
blindfolded and tortured. Electric shocks were applied to his genitals and
mouth. Police officers ordered him to call off the strike, to disband the
PTUZ and not to make any statements to the press. He was released on Oct.
21, after the court found that the state had failed to make its case against

Now, three years later, and following another amendment of the country's
constitution, which provided for the withdrawal of travel documents from all
Zimbabweans who are perceived to be enemies of the state, authorities seized
Raymond Majongwe's passport. ZCTU information officer, Mlamleli Sibanda says
the amendment to the constitution is a retributive counter-action by the
government after the entire ruling Zanu PF leadership and government
ministers were slapped with travel sanctions by the international community.
"It is a mischievous act of flagrant disregard of the freedom of association
and movement. Rights which the government of Zimbabwe ratified under
Convention 87 [Freedom of Association and the Protection of the Right to
Organize] of the International Labor Organization," Sibanda says. While the
passports of Trevor Ncube and Paul Themba Nyathi were returned within weeks,
it would be a month before Raymond Majongwe's passport was returned.

Arnold Tsunga, director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, in an
interview with SW Radio Africa said Majongwe's passport was returned after a
letter of demand was sent to the police. The letter stated that the seizure
was unlawful and that the police had no legal basis for holding onto
Majongwe's passport. He describes the return of Majongwe's passport as a
small victory, which has no political significance in that the government of
President Mugabe will comply with the rule of law where there is no threat
to the balance of political mapping in the country. Tsunga warns that once
the Zimbabwean government has sorted out the regulatory framework, which is
the precondition for the amendment to work, it will be no surprise to see it
"begin to selectively target individuals, especially human rights defenders;
who are seen as an impact in terms of the world knowing what is happening in
the country and in terms of influencing the grassroots movement."

Review of Let Conscience Be My Guide - Weekend Gazette

Let Conscience be my Guide, the story of political prisoners
by Stanley Kwenda

Weekend Gazette: Thursday, 17th April.

Book: Let Conscience be my Guide Written by Geoffrey Bould

NELSON Mandela, the best-known political prisoner of our time, once remarked that the way a society treats its prisoners, especially political prisoners, is the test of that society’s conscience.
Geoffrey Bould aptly captured this famous statement in his latest book, Let Conscience be my Guide, a collection of testimonies by well-known political prisoners around the world.
The book explores the conditions and personal re-collections of political prisoners from around the world during their time of incarceration.
The tales in the book resonate with those of the many political activists and human rights defenders, who have been arrested and brutally assaulted while in police custody since 2000 when Zimbabwe started going down the political and economic drain as a result of violent and often populist policies adopted by President Robert Mugabe’s government.
‘We live in a world of broken human relations where injustice is experienced daily. This anthology provides a moving testimony to the unbroken spirit of prisoners who rely on their conscience,’ said Anglican Bishop Sebastian Bakare.
‘In a world seeming to grow darker every week, this lovely book is witness to the light that cannot be extinguished,’ the late Paul Eddington, actor and former chair of Equity’s International Committee for Artists‚ Freedom, said.
This remarkable collection of prison anecdotes vibrates with the eloquent idealism of prisoners of conscience through the ages. Just as the lone Chinese student confronted the tanks in Tiananmen Square, so too have prisoners of conscience challenged and been emboldened by their rare courage.
The book carries moving accounts by victims of repression of some of the world’s ugliest dictatorships and authoritarian governments.
It also tackles the Holocaust, Soviet labour camps and psychiatric prisons, nuclear protestors, civil rights and anti-apartheid activists, anti-colonial nationalists and targets of religious persecution through history.
For Zimbabweans, the book comes as a timely handbook for political leaders and activists, who, in the course of seeking freedom and self-emancipation, get to be prison guests of the state several times.
It brings them into unison with the experiences of some of Zimbabwe’s post-independence struggle icons, who give recollections of their trials and tribulations in Zimbabwean jails at the hands of the country’s autocratic rulers.

Speech to launch Conscience Be My Guide and Stained Earth - Dr Hans Heinsbroek

Speech by  Dr Hans Heinsbroek, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
given at the launch of Conscience by my Guide edited by Geoffrey Bould
and Stained Earth by Derek Huggins

on Thursday 17th February  at the Gallery Delta

Dear Colleagues, members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am most honoured by your presence at the book launch of the anthology  Conscience be my Guide, and of  Stained Earth, short stories by Derek Huggins. Weaver Press publishes both books. I thank Murray and Irene very much.

The statement ‘Conscience be my Guide’ is a profound one, whose implications are not clear-cut, and that requires – I feel – ample reflection.

A guide, by definition, directs the course; it determines the direction of travelling. It implies uniqueness of the course or direction.

‘Conscience’ has many different definitions.

I usually turn to Wittgenstein when I look for meaning of concepts, and their implications in thinking. Wittgenstein has however hardly touched on the issue. In 1916 he wrote down this thought: ‘Certainly it is correct to say: Conscience is the voice of God’. A debate about this view can fill weekends during which I would put at least four question marks within this short statement.
However, with this statement Wittgenstein joins most of the definitions of ‘conscience’ in the sense that it links conscience with God.

In religious circles there are widely different views on the content of that link.
Some are of the opinion that the writings of God are all-embracing, such that the course of all human thought and action can and should be based on the writings of God. There is no room for personal interpretation. Conscience is merely the free will to choose between doing the only right thing as indicated by the Divine Soul, and doing wrong things as suggested by the Animal Soul.
Others are of the opinion that the writings of God cover most or many human thoughts and actions, and that conscience – installed by divine intervention – will lead the individual in all other cases.
Again others state that conscience directs all thoughts and actions and that conscience – installed by divine intervention – is deepened by the reading of the writings of God.

The most common secular definition of conscience is:
The inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct or motives, impelling one toward right action.

It seems therefore inevitable that, if a person follows his conscience he can only do the right thing in his thought or action.
Now there we meet a serious pitfall. One may be convinced that one is right, but others (a minority or the majority) may feel otherwise.
Allow me to show this pitfall with an extreme and horrible example. The most frequently discussed case on the internet of a so-called prisoner of conscience is that of Ernst Zundel, incarcerated for his incessant claim that the holocaust never took place and that it is just the Zionists’ favourite legend. It is a sickening experience to read the defence of his righteousness and of his prisoner of conscience status by himself and by his supporters. It makes it however abundantly clear that people can be totally convinced of being in the right while the vast majority is of the diametrically opposed opinion.
In most cases fortunately the differences in convictions are much less, and sometimes they are even just marginal.

I am of the opinion that when people or groups have conflicting thoughts or actions, based on their conscience or not, they should discuss their differences without making reference to the divine correctness of their own thought or action. Thereby they will admit – at least to themselves – that their views are not necessarily absolutely correct. All parties concerned should discuss the differences in a spirit of modesty and tolerance.
Too often other countries are invaded, and populations and individuals marginalised, oppressed and even exterminated, while the oppressor refers to the fact that God is on his side.

Prisoners of conscience meet their fate because they have opinions that differ from a person or party in power, and because the latter shows a lack or absence of modesty and tolerance towards different opinions, by trying to silence them.

The most famous prisoner of conscience in the marvellous world of opera, Floristan, laments about his painful ordeal in his dark and cold dungeon where he is close to death. He sings in a powerful aria,  ‘I dared to speak the truth and these chains were my reward. Still, my heart is at peace; I have done my duty,’ and he lays his fate in God’s hands.
Floristan is saved when the minister visits the prison and informs us that ‘Our president has commanded me to search out all victims of injustice. I will end the oppression that buried you in darkness and dread.’
This gives rise to an orgy of victorious and happy arias and choirs.
When the applause has faded and one’s adrenaline has subsided, one is confronted with two sad findings:
First of all: Beethoven never wrote a second opera after Fidelio.
Secondly, in many cases, prisoners of conscience do not meet Fidelio’s happy ending.

It takes tremendous courage for people to express views that differ from the powerhouse when the powerhouse has the reflex to silence opposing views, a phenomenon that exists since time immemorial and on all continents.
With this statement I do not take position in favour of all persons or groups with the dissident view, as dissident views are not necessarily more just than the view of the majority, and as they do not necessarily correspond with my conscience. What I claim is that the powerhouse should listen to and discuss with those supporting opposing views, and that it should do so in a spirit of modesty and tolerance.
The strongest characteristics of a democracy are that the majority caters for views and aspirations of the minorities and that it cherishes checks and balances, however painful and annoying their effects may be.

The anthology,  Conscience be my Guide, groups writings by prisoners of conscience.
As – at least in my view – there is no such thing as absolute truth or a universally accepted, correct and single conscience, the editor that selects writings to be included in the anthology does so on the basis of his own conscience.
I think the editors (of the first and this second edition) have done a marvellous job. The selection underscores that imprisonment because of conscience is taking place since time immemorial and on all continents. The editors do not come to the defence of the prisoner or of his views.
The writings selected invariably impress on me the high moral standards of its writers (I may not subscribe to or agree with their specific views or causes, especially when religious concerns are involved). The writings instil upon us respect for conviction and they encourage us to stand up for our views. I insist however, that all parties should do so in a spirit of modesty and tolerance and that no reference be made to the divine correctness of a thought or action.
The reading of  Conscience be my Guide touched and troubled me. At times I was in rage, at other pages in tears. I think I have improved by reading this book.
I hope you will decide to read it yourself and to present it to your dear ones and friends. I hope that the rage and despair you will feel will be the fertiliser for modesty and tolerance for views that do not correspond to your conscience even for those thoughts that are alien to you.

Allow me also to say a few words about Stained Earth, a collection of short stories by Derek Huggins.
Derek’s stories are, I feel, non-fiction although the main character is not called Huggins but Greg Stanyon. Derek’s stories take place in Rhodesia, during the freedom fight. Derek makes us feel what people from all walks of life must have felt then: he puts us in very different skins, from being a white policeman or soldier, through being an innocent victim or bystander, to being a black freedom fighter. Derek writes with great compassion and manages to stay away from the suspense mode. Derek is not a Dan Brown or a Steven King; Derek does not waste your time.
In his description of the atmosphere and of the reflections and reflexes of the different characters, Derek stays frugal in words and rich in sentiment and information. The feelings that engulfed me while reading , Stained Earth, were on the one hand that of deep sadness that Zimbabwe had to go through the freedom fight, and on the other hand the great honesty, compassion and humanity of its author. I of course have no understanding for the way the giant eagle owl had to meet its end, but I feel that Derek is still struggling with it. After having read his short stories I was even more proud of knowing him than before I laid hands on this book. I feel that Stained Earth is a must. I wish you wonderful reading.

Dear Colleagues, members of the diplomatic corps, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much for bearing with me while I submitted my reflections to you.

This book launch is highlighted by a visual art exhibition inside Gallery Delta, on the topic of Books, Words and Writings. I do hope that you will please yourself by visiting it.

I wish you a pleasant continuation of this very special evening.

Thank you.