A glimpse behind the grim walls of Harare Central Prison

Harare Central Prison, established in 1910, has been home to criminals, innocent people and even babies. Like all the country’s prisons it has also housed political prisoners being hounded by those in power for more than a century.

Harare Central Prison
Harare Central Prison

Many nationalists who were fighting colonial rule have passed through the grim walls of the gaol, as have scores of other activists after independence, who were incarcerated when the new rulers became uncomfortable with them.

The prison has also seen its share of dramatic jailbreaks. It was built as part of the state security matrix in the colonial age, situated just outside the city centre, to the east, where it shares fences with the Morris Depot police training grounds, the army’s KG6 cantonment area, the Presidential Guard compound and Police General Headquarters.

All these were strategically located as symbols of national security around State House and Zimbabwe House – both a stone’s throw away from a block of flats housing Central Intelligence Organisation employees and the Commissioner of Police.

Harare Central Prison is divided into three major sections—the remand holding cells, prison cells and a workshop. It accommodates both men and women, some together with their children.

By design, it caters for 1,470 inmates, but according to the Officer in Charge, Chief Superintendant Christmas Tarwira, it currently holds 1,622 prisoners and often houses 2,000.

“Though we are not a maximum prison we have a maximum section where we keep condemned prisoners who have a life jail term,” he said. “Cells meant for one person are taking three inmates due to overpopulation while some of our ablution facilities are broken down.” In most cases prisoners who get 10 years and above serve their sentences at maximum prisons like Chikurubi and Khami. When they are left with seven years and below they are referred to Harare, Mutare and Whawha in Gweru, while those with 30 months and less are transferred to smaller prisons like Plumtree and Bindura.

HCP boasts a two ward hospital that accommodates 13 beds. The Matron, Tandiwe Chaitezvi, told The Zimbabwean that one ward acts as a Tuberculosis Unit while the other is Multi-Disease Ward. “On the ground floor are an Opportunistic Infection Clinic, Outpatient Department and a Modern Dental Unit furnished with state of the art equipment and manned by a dental therapist,” she said.

The workshop is where most of the rehabilitation of the inmates takes place. They learn various skills such as motor mechanics, welding, moulding, carpentry, television-radio repairs, panel beating and book binding so that they can seek employment when they re-join society.

Most of the equipment and machinery at the workshop are as old as the institution itself, and some have broken down. Government’s limited financial resources have limited any progress. There is also an education wing with 10 government teachers, catering for primary, secondary and tertiary level. “But the class rooms are demarcated by nothing and they are closely packed – which causes disruption,” said Tarwira. “Sometimes inmates who are teachers by profession teach others. Although we have limited furniture and textbooks the Ordinary level pass rate is 69 percent.”

The huge kitchen uses electric-pots but most are malfunctio-ning. “We have three meals per day but only three of our electric pots are functioning and at the moment some food is cooked outside using firewood, which makes it very difficult,” Tarwira said. The Prison has a chaplain who baptises inmates and teaches them the gospel. Many embrace religion and become God-fearing people who then shun their former evil doings. Over the years, it has been dogged by a high mortality rate, prevalent communicable diseases and a severe shortage of food, clothing and medical drugs.

Satanists cause unrest

Currently, the remand section houses two Congolese inmates who claim to be Satanists who thrive on human blood and have caused unrests and uncertainty among inmates and prison officers who now live in fear.

“As Zimbabweans we are a God-fearing nation and we are currently engaging the relevant authorities and stakeholders to find means of sending these self-proclaimed Satanist to their own country, but it might take time,” said the Deputy Commissioner of Prisons, Agrey Huggins.

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Post published in: Analysis

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