16 January 2014

Zimbabwe: Prisoners Facing Starvation

Photo: decade_null/Flickr
A holding cell (file photo).

About 19,000 prison inmates countrywide are facing starvation as food stocks have dropped significantly and the situation could worsen due to poor funding, parliamentarians heard Wednesday.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs secretary Virginia Mabhiza told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs that most prisons urgently need more food and clothing supplies. The committee heard that the department's farms which were allocated during the so-called land reform exercise to boost food production were underutilized due to inadequate funding. Also facing the same situation are the department's factories which make the prisoners and magistrates' garments, the committee heard.

A Thursday NewsDay report quoted Mabhiza saying the situation was made worse by the fact that the department was allocated a paltry $2.5 million against the required $ 21million in this year's budget. The ministry as a whole had requested $279 million but was allocated only $108 million. Mabhiza said the $21 million is based on the calculation that that the prison population remains constant and also on the hope that prices remain static.

According to the report Mabhiza told the committee that the huge shortfall stood to negatively affect the ministry's core activities, including justice delivery. Mabhiza added that the newly-constituted human rights commission and the National Prosecution Authority would also be affected.

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum Executive Director Abel Chikomo blamed the situation in the country's prisons on the government's 'misplaced priorities.' Chikomo said his organization was one of the many whose warnings on the deteriorating situation in the country's prisons have been repeatedly ignored by the government.

He added: 'The government should be ashamed of this because we have a situation where some senior officials are pocketing large sums of money for doing nearly nothing and yet the government can't offer a basic service such as feeding prisoners.'

Last year Mabhiza and Agrey Machingauta revealed to the same committee that at least 100 inmates had died in 2013 at the country's 55 prisons due to poor nutrition.

At the time MDC-T Harare West MP and shadow justice minister, Jessie Majome, expressed her shock and disappointment that conditions seemed to be deteriorating to the levels of the 2007/2008 humanitarian crisis. So bad was the situation then that the Red Cross was forced to step in. This was when a report by the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender revealed the extent of the crisis.

The Red Cross withdrew its food assistance in 2011, saying at the time that the prison services were 'far more capable of meeting the dietary needs of inmates.'

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