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demystifies life in prisons
Matshazi, The Standard (Zimbabwe)
February 03, 2013
this article on The Standard (Zimbabwe) website
Services boss, Paradzai Zimondi has a reputation of being a tough
man, but on Friday, in a rare show of openness and transparency,
he opened his prisons to journalists.
I was part of
a group of journalists that was given unfettered access to any prison
in Harare, as ZPS said it wanted to show that it was a transparent
was scepticism among some of us, who feared that the prison warders
would shepherd us to a prison that had been cleaned and prepared
for our visit.
But all these
fears were allayed, when we were told to select any prison of our
choice and Harare Central Remand Prison, with a reputation of being
overcrowded, was chosen.
I can describe
myself as a claustrophobe, I am afraid of confinement and the high
As we walked
into the remand prison, my fear of restrictions did not help my
mood much. In 2011, I was locked up for a night in a holding cell
and the experience is still traumatic to this day, so I could only
imagine what the people behind the white walls of the prison felt.
We were first
taken to where people with less serious crimes were held and how
dramatic that turned out to be.
The first prisoners
I spoke to were from Uganda and they told a tale of abuse and neglect,
but not by the jail guards as you would expect, but rather by the
The 13 Ugandans
said they had been convicted of entering the country illegally and
had finished serving their sentences, but the immigration department
was stalling their deportation, demanding bribes from them.
led by Mpungu Dedrin and Jeffery Baloku, named two officials from
the immigration department whom they accused of demanding bribes
and lying to prison officials about their status.
Now the population
of foreign prisoners continues to swell, creating an explosive situation,
as xenophobic tensions are beginning to rise.
inmates feel abused
inmates felt they were being abused by locals and clashes have been
the order of the day, culminating in a hunger strike last Thursday.
Led by the Congolese,
foreign inmates boycotted lunch and supper, forcing prison authorities
to intervene and cool down tempers.
Then I came
face to face with the devil, well at least his disciples. Two Congolese,
George Lungange and Bragstone Ngezi, are causing a stir within the
prison cells, as they demand to be free to worship the devil. Interestingly,
like any person from any other religion, they looked convinced that
their religion was the best form.
an eyelid, one of them told me that he wants freedom from God and
had signed a life-long irrevocable contract to be a satanist.
There were several
other interesting prisoners there, particularly one Pakistani, who
unfortunately does not speak much English and prison authorities
are struggling to help him contact his family.
All in all,
the foreign inmates are a motley crew, ranging from a Nigerian who
claimed to be a national team footballer, a white man who did not
want to speak to anyone and a frail looking South African.
tale of Harare Central's 'D Section'
Then it was
time for us to visit the notorious "D Section", where
people who are accused of more serious crimes are kept.
As I walked
in, my attention was drawn to an elderly grey haired man, probably
in his 80s, who sat amongst other inmates probably half his age.
I asked the
warders what he was in for and I was told he was accused of rape.
when he was asked what happened, he gave the most outlandish explanation
man said the girl, whom he is accused of raping, just happened to
"fall where he was".
were at pains to show that the prisoners were healthy and fit, as
I think they are still haunted by a South African television documentary
in 2007 that showed an emaciated, hungry and frail prisoner being
In all, I would
say we found the remand section quite clean, contrary to the horror
tales often peddled.
The cells, one
which accommodates between 25 and 30 people, are quite clean with
flush toilets and running water inside.
This is unlike
police holding cells, which often do not have water and are flushed
from outside, where inmates have no control.
The idea of
visiting prisons was initially repulsive, but I must say the authorities
at Harare Central Remand Prison are doing a sterling job in keeping
the place presentable and clean.
place being well kept, I must say I have no wish to visit ever,
either as a touring journalist or, God forbid, as an inmate.
I just cannot
stand prisons and high walls.
horror of 15 years in remand
There was also
Jonathan Mutsinze, a veteran of the remand section, who has been
in remand prison for the past 15 years.
He is now conversant
with most laws and legal proceedings, as if in testament to how
long he has been a guest of the justice system.
arrested in 1998, when Florence Ziyambi, now a judge, was still
a prosecutor and represented the state in the case against him.
Now 65, Mutsinze,
with a hint of despair, says he has tried all means to get bail,
but so far his efforts have so far drawn a blank.
his pro-deo lawyers, Mutsinze has fought a futile battle to be released
from remand prison.
He says he has
tried to apply for bail using change of circumstances, but the courts
are asking for his previous bail number, yet he has never been granted
Now, his only
family are the prison wardens and fellow inmates, he said with a
tinge of bitterness.
of vehicle theft, says he is a founder and archbishop of an apostolic
church and like everyone else he maintained his innocence.
When asked what
he told his congregants when he was arrested, he said he had told
them he was going to Zambia to start another church there.
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