3 December 2013

Zimbabwe: 100 Die From Hunger in Zimbabwe's Prisons

Photo: Sokwanele
A holding cell in Zimbabwe (file photo).

MDC-T legislator Jessie Majome has called on the government to take concrete and urgent steps to avert a "brewing humanitarian crisis" in the country's prisons.

Majome made the call on Tuesday after justice ministry and prison officials revealed that at least 100 inmates have died this year at the country's 55 facilities.

The deaths were poor nutrition-related, according to Virginia Mabhiza and Agrey Machingauta, from the justice ministry and prisons services.

The two officials told the parliamentary portfolio committee that the country's prisons were experiencing serious food shortages because it they were not receiving enough money to source food for the 18,460 prisoners.

They told parliamentarians that although $1.2 million was required monthly for food for the prisoners, only $300,000 was being allocated.

As a result, prisoners were no longer receiving the required three meals a day, a situation which had led to nutrition-related illnesses and deaths.

MDC-T Harare West legislator and shadow justice minister Majome, who is also the MDC-T shadow minister for justice, said she was shocked by the report "because it is reminiscent of the humanitarian disaster experienced in 2007/2008.

"At the time prisoners were dying like flies at the rate of about eight per day, and as deputy justice minister at the time, I helped to come up with a situation to alleviate this disaster.

"And this included appealing to humanitarian organisations such as the Red Cross who had to contend with a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy but finally stepped in and assisted with food as well as management training for the prison services. As a result the death rate fell by about 93%," Majome said.

Majome said she was alarmed and disappointed that conditions seemed to be deteriorating to the 2007/2008 levels.

"It is a great concern that the prisons services is constantly broke and prisoners constantly facing starvation despite the department owning farms where they can grow food to the point of being self-sustaining," the legislator said.

She said her committee will investigate further "to see how legislators can work with the justice ministry to find for solutions to the problems in our prisons.

"The prevailing conditions are a serious human rights concern and if, as a country, we cannot look after vulnerable members such as prisoners, then that speaks volumes about how far we still have to go towards civilisation," Majome added.

As SW Radio Africa reported last year, the Red Cross withdrew food assistance in 2011, saying the country's prison services were "far more capable of meeting the dietary needs of inmates".

The global charity stepped in at about the same time as a disturbing 2009 report by the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender revealed how most prisoners wished for death to escape the dire conditions and misery at the country's correctional facilities.

The report detailed how serious food shortages, overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, lack of proper food nad medical care, had contributed to diseases, with many prisoners dying from vitamin deficiency conditions such as pellagra.

Ex-intelligence operative and SA apartheid double-agent Kevin Woods spent 18 years at Harare's Chikurubi Prison, five of these naked and in solitary confinement. He wrote a book, The Kevin Woods Story: In the Shadows of Mugabe's Gallows, which captured the inhumane and dire conditions at the country's prisons.

In October human rights activist Douglas Muzanenhamo, who spent a month in remand prison and was denied access to critical anti-retroviral drugs, told SW Radio Africa that conditions in Zimbabwe's prisons are "hell on earth".

"There is filth everywhere, the corridors, the holding cells, the blankets, and the prison regalia. When I was arrested and taken to Harare Remand Prison, I was given dirty and lice-infested clothes. I was thrown into a filthy, overcrowded cell where we had buckets for toilets," Muzanenhamo said.

Upon his release, Muzanenhamo approached the Constitutional Court in a bid to force a review of the treatment of inmates by the prisons services.

Although the Court reserved judgement, Muzanenhamo says at least the case has lifted the lid on the gross human rights violations within the prison system.

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