Zimbabwe: Children Languish in SA Prisons

TINASHE Ndebele (16) is a Zimbabwean boy languishing in the Baviaanspoort Correctional facility in South Africa.

Other boys of his age are attending secondary school, dating girls or even playing sports - but alas, he is behind the closed prison door waiting to be deported to Zimbabwe when he finishes his jail term.

He has spent two years in the correctional facility together with at least 42 other Zimbabwean juveniles. He is still a teenager, but the tattoos on his arms belie his youth. He was convicted of armed robbery and possession of stolen goods.

He stands motionless as Lucky Mthethwa, the director of administration in the South Africa Correctional Services, announces the department's intention to ensure that when inmates finish serving their sentences they can use the acquired skills to earn a living.

Like all the convicted teenagers, he wears a red T-shirt, blue faded jeans, and grey snickers. His eyes tell the story of the anguish and agony he is going through.

The teenager sleeps on a single bed. His undergarments and a face towel hang preciously on the edge of his metal bed.

There is no rubbish paper on the floor, and the plastic bin in the corner is empty.

Thuso Khumalo, a freelance journalist with Voice of America says, the sight of young boys being in such conditions is very upsetting and shocking.

Tinashe seems to be a soccer fan: his cell walls are covered with pictures of mostly black soccer players. There is a colourful magazine pullout of the Ivorian international Didier Drogba and the Zimbabwean goal keeper, Energy Murambadoro.

Also conspicuous in the cell is the inscription written: "Home sweet home, Zimbabwe!" Interesting, the only female picture in the cell is that of the former Generation soapie actress, Connie Ferguson.

But the question remains, has the teenager repented?

A bible school certificate also stuck on the white walls of his unit shows that he has completed a course in bible studies. Noreth Momoza, head of correctional centre of the youth at the Emthonjeni Youth Centre - a complex within Baviaanspoort, thinks otherwise.

She says: "He is such an aggressive and rude person. Are Zimbabweans aggressive people? He also doesn't want to attend school."

She told The Standard that Tinashe and one of his Zimbabwean colleagues "attempted to commit suicide by burning themselves a week ago."

Tinashe is one of the 70 Zimbabweans serving their sentences at the correctional facility.

Zim seeks to emulate South Africa model

There are 13 prisons in South Africa which have provision for juveniles, with 1 275 youngsters between the ages of 14 and 18 years behind bars, according to the Department of Correctional Services.

South Africa has adopted a model where prisons are built on farms. The Baviaanspoort Correctional Facility is built on a 616 hectares farm east of Pretoria.

Farming experts are recruited to help inmates till the land and keep livestock for their own consumption. Besides acquiring farming skills, inmates also maintain all the equipment they use.

During a two-day learning tour in South Africa recently, the Zimbabwe Deputy Prison Commissioner Rhodes Moyo, said the trip was an eye opener and the Zimbabwe Prison Services (ZPS) department will be soon adopting the same model to enable it to become less dependent on government funds.

He however, admits that there will be huge challenges such as acquiring equipment needed for the farming. According to the Zimbabwe Restoration of Human Rights (ROHR), conditions in Zimbabwe's prisons are not suitable for human habitation.

There have been reports of severe malnutrition. ROHR reports that since 2000, the conditions in prisons have deteriorated to alarming levels due to lack of food, proper sanitation and health facilities.

This has resulted in increased deaths in prisons.

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