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inmates cheer for rotten bread
October 11, 2013
of weeks, inmates at Harare Central and Chikurubi prisons in Zimbabwe
greet the arrival of bakery trucks with roars of approval, whistles
and dancing. The trucks’ arrival signals a rare few days of
bread to relieve a prison diet that is sparse and monotonous.
is in fact condemned [rejected] by the bakery, but it still brings
joy to prisoners because it is some of the best food they ever get
behind those walls," said Kerina Dehwa, a former prisoner who
recently spent more than a year at Chikurubi Female Prison, about
15km east of the capital Harare, awaiting trial.
She was among
21 members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)
party who were accused
of murdering a senior police officer. All but five of them were
recently acquitted by the Harare High Court.
the trucks came, the prison wardens selected loaves that were still
in good condition, packed them in boxes and took them home, leaving
us with the bad ones,” she told IRIN.
The bread was
then doled out over two or three days, by the end of which it was
mouldy. After that, the inmates reverted to the usual 10am breakfast
of black tea and a sugarless, watery porridge.
told IRIN that the only other meal of the day, served at 2pm, usually
consisted of a small portion of sadza - a thick maize meal porridge
- served with boiled green vegetables or weevil-infested beans.
support for prisons
40 prisons, most of them small, accommodating an estimated 17,000
prisoners in total.
organizations and human rights activists blame the paucity and poor
quality of prison food on the general underfunding of correctional
facilities, an absence of political will and government interference
with NGOs attempting to support prisoners.
situation in prisons is horrible and it is getting worse,"
Douglas Mwonzora, a former MDC member of parliament and past chairman
of the parliamentary committee on justice and legal affairs, told
He added that
the formation of a government of national unity in early 2009 had
slightly improved prison conditions, at a time when an average of
20 prisoners were dying daily, according to the Zimbabwe
Association of Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender
(ZACRO). Also in 2009, ZACRO and the International Committee of
the Red Cross (ICRC) stepped in to provide additional food and water
and ZACRO stopped giving help to prisoners in 2011. ICRC said it
was withdrawing support because the food situation in Zimbabwe had
improved, while ZACRO said its resources were depleted. A lawyer
with the Zimbabwe
Lawyers for Human Rights, Tawanda Zhuwarara, however, told IRIN
that the withdrawal "reflected growing tension between the
Justice Minister - Patrick Chinamasa - and non-governmental organizations."
won elections held in July this year after an unhappy four-year
partnership with two factions of the MDC, which had been assigned
mainly social service and financial portfolios, although correctional
services had remained under the control of Zanu-PF's Chinamasa.
improved food security had not benefited prisons, which continued
to receive inadequate food supplies.
all about resources and poor policy decisions by the government,
which has all along failed to release money to improve prison conditions
while ZPS [Zimbabwe Prison Services] is also crippled as it lacks
resources to feed the inmates,” he told IRIN.
prison warden, who declined to be identified, said: "We have
six farms across the country, but there is hardly any production
taking place there. The farms could go a long way in feeding prisoners,
using prisoners’ labour, but equipment is broken down and
we have no farming experts."
that prison authorities could not fully utilise the farms because
they lacked money for inputs as well as expertise.
ZACRO’s chief executive officer, told IRIN the justice ministry
was just "paying lip service to the plight of prisoners. The
parent ministry [the justice ministry] has hardly demonstrated the
will to improve prisoners' conditions and has done nothing meaningful.
Despite our calls, it has failed to release money to buy food, clothing
and other needed resources to make prison life humane".
human rights activist and senior litigation lawyer at the Zimbabwe
Lawyers for Human Rights, blamed poor conditions in prisons on government’s
attitude towards inmates.
are grossly underfunded and neglected because there is a widespread
view among authorities that inmates are supposed to be punished
rather than rehabilitated. That is why, since independence in 1980,
hardly any more prisons have been built. The manner in which the
prisoners are being treated is unconstitutional; the constitution
stipulates that they are supposed to be treated with dignity, yet
this is not the case," Zhuwarara told IRIN.
The acute lack
of food in prisons has spawned corruption and sexual abuse among
inmates and prison wardens, according to John Moyo*, another former
trade whatever they would have brought to jail with the wardens,
who then bring them food to the cells. In some cases, the wardens
are given money to smuggle in food from relatives of the inmates,
but all this is not allowed by prison regulations," he told
Moyo, who was
incarcerated at both Harare Central and Chikurubi prisons, said
prison authorities barred visitors from giving inmates cooked food,
saying they feared it might lead to the spread of diseases such
as typhoid and cholera.
He added that
some prisoners, particularly those who have already been tried and
sentenced, resorted to having sex with fellow inmates in exchange
for food and cigarettes smuggled in by the wardens or relatives.
were mostly young men who were abused because of the hunger in prisons.
My worry is that many of them might have contracted HIV," he
the prisons as “death traps”, claiming he had seen many
inmates die of disease and malnutrition.
Cells were overpopulated
and often contaminated with sewage, and inmates suffering from communicable
diseases were kept together with those who were healthy.
In 2011, following
visits to five facilities, the parliamentary committee on human
rights released a report condemning prison conditions. The report
noted that "lack of toiletries, ablution facilities and the
unavailability of water for a long time at some prisons were disturbing"
and that "prisoners' diets needed to be improved".
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