Testimonies by former prisoners indicate that for a long time officials have been sharing amongst themselves food, clothing and other goodies donated by churches and well-wishers, while inmates suffered amid acute shortages at prisons around the country.
Towards the end of last year, Eunah Guti, one of the founding members of ZAOGA Church, donated T- shirts and pants to female inmates at Chikurubi. Memory Ncube, 32, who was among the 21 Movement for Democratic Change activists acquitted recently on the charge of murdering Inspector Petros Mutedza in May 2011, said most of the donated goods did not reach the female prisoners.
“Pastor Guti donated underwear, T- shirts and food at Chikurubi Female on December 15 last year -but we only got half a bar of soap and a can of coke each. Two inmates were made to share a packet of biscuits, but none of us got the underwear and T-shirts,” she said.
Most prisoners were not aware of their rights, and therefore prison officers abused their office and violated prisoners’ rights with impunity, said Ncube.
Kerina Dehwa, another MDC-T activist recently acquitted on the murder charge, told The Zimbabwean that the prison officers scrambled for the T-shirts and underwear in full view of the inmates, adding that one inmate challenged them to surrender all the donations to them, but was not listened to.
Most of the 40 jails around the country that house an estimated 17,000 inmates have been condemned for being unfit for human habitation, with government officials admitting that hygiene and sanitation are severely compromised, while food and clothing are scarce.
To support the government in rehabilitating prisoners and to alleviate the suffering of inmates and ensure that they are treated with dignity, well-wishers, churches and NGOs make regular donations.
Gospel icon Fungisai Mashavave last year gave inmates at Chikurubi Female Prison an early Christmas when she donated foodstuffs and gave a live performance. Other donors include the United Family International Church, a Pentecostal denomination, which recently donated 100 kilograms of kapenta, toothbrushes, toothpaste and 1,800 metres of cloth for inmates’ uniforms, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Zimbabwe Association for Crime and Rehabilitation of Offenders and Zimbabwe Prison Fellowship. Relatives and friends have also played a critical part in alleviating hunger at prisons, bringing food, water and personal items. ZACRO Director Edison Chihota said it was likely that donated goods could be diverted because of poor follow-up mechanisms and the fact that prisons were high security areas.
“Prison officers are human and like anyone else in the civil service, they are not adequately remunerated. So they may end up abusing their office,” he said. “Sometimes we witness donated goods being distributed to inmates, but there are times when these gifts are just left in the custody of prison authorities.” Paul Rukanda, another MDC-T activist who spent more than a year in prison accused of Mutedza’s murder, complained that incarcerated persons were treated like animals.
“The food given to inmates was not fit for human consumption,” he said, adding that prisoners ate only two meals a day of poorly prepared porridge served with no sugar and “greyish- looking sadza” with boiled cabbage, beans or spinach without oil.
“We had no choice but to accept whatever we were given. We don’t know how much else they (officers) converted to personal use,” said Rukanda.
Augustine Tengenyika, who served time at Chikurubi Maximum Prison, said prisoners were given weevil-infested beans for supper. He said clothing brought for inmates by their relatives was also confiscated by prison officers.
“My relatives brought me clothes after realizing that the shorts and jerseys that I wore were tattered. The surprising part is that those clothes were confiscated when I was released from prison,” he said.
He only received a pair of tennis shoes from all the donations made during the year he was in prison.
Tafadzwa Biliat, another acquitted MDC-T activist, who was on remand at Chikurubi Maximum Prison said: “ICRC donated blankets, beans and cooking oil but we ate food cooked without any cooking oil. You had no- one to question because you were a prisoner and that meant that you had no rights in the eyes of the officials.”
The ICRC Head of Communication, Tendayi Sengwe, confirmed that his organisation supports the prison services department in ‘extremely difficult situations’, but would not be drawn to comment on the alleged theft of donations.
“Governments are responsible for the welfare of prisoners and we are only there to support their work. We help governments based on principles of confidentiality because it is not within our jurisdiction to reveal our findings or comment on certain issues relating to the welfare of prisoners,” said Sengwe.
A donor who spoke on condition of anonymity said his organisation used its periodic interactions with prisoners to establish whether inmates had benefitted from donated goods, but would not divulge their findings as they were supposed to be treated in strict confidence.
“We interact with them (prisoners) to find out whether they benefitted from the donations, but it is very difficult to establish or hold prison officials accountable even if we establish that they have abused donated goods,” said the source.
Alec Muchadehama, a legal expert, said it was not feasible for donors to make follow-ups on whether donated goods had reached the intended beneficiaries.
“The contract between the donor and the person at the receiving end of the donation ends as soon as those goods have been received by the person targeted by the donation. If a donation is given under conditions that the recipients would have to account for the goods, it may present challenges where the targeted recipients may refuse to accept the donation,” said Muchadehama.
Efforts to get a comment from prison authorities were futile at the time of going to print as ZPS Public Relations Manager Elizabeth Banda had not responded to questions. She replied to an e-mail sent to her a week ago acknowledging receipt of the questions and said she would respond.
An official at ZPS headquarters who refused to be identified said: “Of course, the donations reach their intended beneficiaries. I am not going to comment further on that issue but we have responded to your questions that you sent to Banda and we are waiting for the management to approve the responses,” said the official.
A prison official based at Whawha in Gweru said it was possible that wardens took advantage of loopholes to divert donated goods, but said prisons had a system of accounting for all items handed over to officials during inspections.Post published in: News