SA jails ‘hell for Zims’ A personal account by our correspondent ZAKEUS CHIBAYA

MUSINA - Thousands of Zimbabweans arrested here as illegal migrants are forced to scrounge for food in South African prison cells - where they are denied food and blankets. For two days as the guest at Musina Police Station prison cells, I experienced first hand the ill-treatment by South Africa

authorities. After spending 50 hours in jail, I had made friends with my fellow Zimbabweans and officials. I was regarded as a Very Important Person by two cooks and I was the only one to receive food, which I shared with my fellow inmates. On the last day Francis Chauke, who had been arrested five times, had offered me R5 to half of the bread but other hungry Zimbabweans urged me to share it. In two days I met five close relatives who had been arrested and two classmates in their bid to escape poverty at home. The illegal immigrants are kept in a fenced area which accommodates more than 50 people but is overcrowded most of the time. The police force people to squat on the ground or risk bring assaulted. Most of the people arrested are from surrounding farms and while others are picked up while at work. Although there are more than four deportations every day the place remains crowded, especially on Thursdays when people from Lindela Repatriation Camp are being deported. Zimbabweans had to exchange cigarettes with other prisoners to get bread or they had to pay police officers to buy them food outside the police station. One cigarette buys half plate of sadza. Police officers charge R10 each if they are sent to buy food. Food fights are common as people scramble for left over from prison cells and they have destroyed the fence. Some Zimbabweans have lost their hard-earned money as some unscrupulous police officers disappear with their money.
On Thursday last week, a group of dejected and hungry Zimbabweans from Lindela lost R100 to police officers they had sent to buy bread. The officers immediately locked the group in the van and never return with bread. “They robbed us of our money and they are now locking us in the vans without any toilet. We are starving and there is nothing to eat and they refusing to deport us,” said Zibani Makwezi aged 19. The South Africa police accused Mugabe regime for delaying the process of deportation. “We are willing to deport you anytime but your government is to blame,” a policewoman told the prisoners.

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