The Sunday Mail
RUEBEN Chigumira’s life behind bars is a treasure trove of fascinating testimonials. Here is a man who survived a tuberculosis outbreak, hunger strikes, resisted homosexuality, studied to the point that he managed to sit for his O and A-Level examinations and attain nine diplomas.
He was one of the last people to speak to the notorious late armed robber, Stephen Chidhumo, before he was hanged. But more importantly his life serves as confirmation that there truly is life after prison and that redemption is not just a ten-letter word pastors and motivational speakers peddle as currency to lure unsuspecting congregants.
Today, the 61-year-old is an ordained pastor leading in Cape Town and traveling the region as he shares his experiences. In-between, he simply prefers to make up for lost time with his wife Rebecca and daughter Charity. But that wasn’t always the case.
“I think it was back in 1993, when I left Zimbabwe for South Africa and met a guy called Douglas Nyoni.
“We instantly hit it off became friends, and it was KK, as I called him, who introduced me into the life of crime.
“We had a very nifty operation in which we had a contact (Thuli Ncube) who worked for a security company. Ncube would tip us whenever he handled huge consignments of money, after which we would steal from those deliveries. On top of a few miscellaneous jobs, we robbed about four places before Ncube was arrested and he sold us out,” he narrated.
The set-up occurred early 1994, after which Chigumira was caught, tried and sentenced to 33 years by the Bulawayo High Court. Bulawayo was the main base of operation, and after being caught Chigumira received a year for the arms charge and 32 years for the robberies he had committed together with his two accomplices.
Little did he know that, this sentence would end up being a blessing in disguise. He successfully requested to be transferred to Chikurubi Maximum Prison, after serving the first few months of his sentence.
Three events, an epiphany during a leisurely stroll in the yard, two chance encounters with President Emmerson Mnangagwa — then Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs — and then later Chidhumo were key in his journey towards redemption.
“The President truly saved my life. By the time he toured our prison, as Minister of Justice, I had already turned my life around after a leisurely stroll led me to the prison chapel and I was so moved that I began to speak in tongues. I instantly gave my life to Jesus and asked for forgiveness and have never looked back since. The only problem was that I was still lacking in the education department and at the time of my incarceration I only had two O-Levels and a very basic education.
“At the time, inmates of a certain disposition, or crimes, were not permitted to sit for any exams; grievances were shared with the President upon his visit and he sought out to amend. Being someone who educated himself in similar circumstances, he sympathised with our plight and soon enough we were allowed to further our studies,” he said.
Not only did Chigumira sit and pass his O and A-Levels — attaining 11 subjects and 18 points, but he would further attain nine diplomas and certificates.
These are with Institute of Certified Bookkeeping, an Associated and Fellowship Diploma; others in Public Relations, Marketing and with the London Chambers of Commerce.
He also has diplomas in Biblical Studies and Christian Leadership, Church Leadership, Theology and a Post-graduate diploma under the Certified Commerce and Industry Personnel of Scotland.
The newly minted education saw the pastor rise up the ranks in prison and eventually got appointed as the Chikurubi Maximum Prison headmaster, a post that would lead him to cross paths with one of Zimbabwe’s most infamous criminals; the late Stephen Chidhumo.
“I met Chidhumo twice, on our first encounter when he was first arrested and sent to my block.
“Upon hearing some of the work I was doing with the other inmates, teaching and pastoring, he sought me out and we spoke a bit.
“That was before he escaped, went to Mozambique and was caught again. When he returned, he seemed broken and we developed a friendship of sort in which I helped him make peace with his past and try to improve.
“Unfortunately, there was very little to be done to prevent getting hanged but I remember we spoke and prayed a bit the night before. He had just passed, I think Geography, a short while before and he was at peace with himself. I remember he was optimistic of a miracle before his death, but I hope he is in heaven now,” he said.
Chigumira claims at the time of his release last year he had helped roughly 98 inmates turn away from crime and given their lives to Jesus.