Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Correspondent
A MAN from Esigodini who was sentenced to death in 1985 has outlived the judge, prosecutor, State witness and his lawyer who were all involved in his case.
In 1985, Mr Albert Gasela, now 69, was convicted for murdering his tenant in Barbourfields, Bulawayo and sentenced to death. At that time, he never thought he would taste freedom once again, little did he know that life had something else in store for him.
Mr Gasela appealed against the death penalty and his sentence was commuted to life in jail.
On Tuesday he turned up at the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services Week at Bulawayo Prison and told The Chronicle of his story of escape from the jaws of imminent death.
“I was facing a murder charge. After I was charged and convicted of first degree murder I lost hope on everything. My life had ended. I was arrested in 1983 for murdering my tenant and convicted in 1985 but I still insist I never killed him,” he said.
He said while in prison, his wife died. He applied to go to bury her, but the process took too long until she was buried in his absence. Mr Gasela says he served in prison for 22 years at Chikurubi in Harare and later Khami Maximum Prison in Bulawayo after his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
He was finally released in 2007 after becoming one of many prisoners who were pardoned by President Mugabe.
Upon gaining freedom, to Mr Gasela’s surprise, all the people who were involved in his case had died.
“I was sentenced in 1985 but when I was released from prison, all the people who were connected to my case had died. Judge Muchechetere was late, my prosecutor Brasel Siki, my lawyer Richard Ncube were also late. Even the State witness who was my girlfriend at the time is also late,” he said declining to name her.
The ex-prisoner said the person he had wanted to talk to the most was the State witness as he does not understand why she nailed him.
Mr Gasela said his girlfriend testified in court that she found him in bed shaking following the murder and it was this evidence that led to the judge to convict him. He says he has since started a new life; remarried and has been blessed with a child, now two.
Reflecting on his life in prison, he says he never thought he was going to be alive up to this day.
He said when Justice Simbarashe Muchechetere handed him the death sentence at the High Court in Bulawayo, his life literally ended. Mr Gasela said what made matters worse for him was that he worked at the prison workshop making coffins that were supposed to bury those on death row.
“Word would spread that 10 coffins have been made in the workshop which meant that 10 people will be hanged and that the guards would come at 5AM to collect prisoners selected for the hangman’s noose. You wouldn’t know if it was your turn,” he said.
He said during those years, some welcomed their fate, but others would fight tooth and nail not to be hanged.
“Those who didn’t fight were hanged peacefully. However, those who resisted, there was a special place for them, where they were placed in a small corridor that has a trap door to execute them,” he said.
Mr Gasela said being on deathrow was a nightmare as one did not know when the time to face the hangman’s noose would come.
“I was the 46th prisoner to be on deathrow during our time. But this didn’t matter because they were not following any order as prisoners were randomly picked to be hanged. Every time other prisoners were taken the incident left us traumatised, you wouldn’t eat on that day,” he said.
Mr Gasela says following a successful appeal in 1993 the courts reduced his sentence to life in prison.
He said it was a huge relief to know that he would not worry about being hanged again.
Mr Gasela said freedom finally came in 2007 due to a Presidential pardon. He said before his incarceration he was blessed with six children who are all still alive, but he found his wife dead. Mr Gasela said spending 22 years in prison was not easy but support from family has kept him going.
“The only thing that kept me going was that my family, relatives, didn’t desert me. They’d visit me periodically in prison. This made me remain hopeful that one day I’d be reunited with them,” he said.
He says having spent 22 years in jail, all is not lost as he has managed to transform his life but what pains him the most is that his first wife died while he was still in prison.
On a lighter note, Mr Gasela said due to his long service in prison, he was the head of the welcoming committee for new inmates coming into prison.
He said he now makes a living from making coffins, a skill he learnt in prison. “The only mistake that I have made so far is not making my own coffin,” he joked. — @nqotshili