LONDON – Three elderly Kenyans who were tortured in detention under British orders in the 1950s took the witness stand in London’s High Court yesterday in poignant scenes that conjured up the darkest days of the end of empire.
They are seeking damages from the British government, which has been trying for three years to block their legal action for fear that it could encourage countless other former colonial subjects to come forward with similar claims.
The claimants, now in their 70s and 80s, suffered acts of brutality including castration, rape and beatings during a ruthless crackdown by British forces and their Kenyan allies on rebels from the Mau Mau movement fighting for land and freedom.
One of the three to take the stand was Paulo Nzili, 85. In his 20-page witness statement, he gave excruciating details of how he was castrated at Embakasi detention camp by a white settler called Mr Dunman and nicknamed ‘Luvai’ which in Nzili’s Kikamba language means ‘Merciless person’.
‘They tied both of my legs with chains and ... pinned down both my hands. Then Luvai approached me with a pair of pliers which were more than a foot long and castrated me,’ he said in the statement, which was based on his oral account.
Nzili wore a leather jacket and flat cap and used a walking stick. He had difficulty hearing the questions translated by his interpreter.
He was not asked to revisit his abuse on the stand, but to confirm he had recounted his story to the people who drew up the statement, and to confirm he had signed it, which he did.
Jane Muthoni Mara, 73, confirmed the thumb print on her witness statement was her own. The document makes horrifying reading, with details of sexual abuse including rape using a bottle full of boiling water.
Dressed in a skirt and cardigan, both with colourful patterns, and a red-and-yellow headscarf, Mara spoke so softly that the judge politely asked her to speak up.