Harare – Zimbabweans talk of “going to jail to die”, and a visit by parliament’s human rights committee on Wednesday found out why: the economically crippled country can’t feed its prisoners.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights say more than 100 prisoners died of malnutrition-related illness in 2013, and officials admit the problem.
“Food is not all that adequate, we do not have enough food,” said Enerst Pambayi, the officer-in-charge of Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, as an AFP team accompanied the rights committee’s inspection.
Four prisoners at Chikurubi were shot dead and several were injured in protests over food two months ago.
Overcrowding is also a problem in Zimbabwe’s 46 jails, which hold 20 000 prisoners despite being designed to accommodate 17 000 inmates, officials said.
“The food we are served is not healthy,” an inmate clad in the prison uniform of white shorts and a short-sleeved shirt told AFP during a tour of Harare central prison.
Prison officials had been advised of the upcoming tour well ahead of time, and it was not possible to judge how close the conditions seen by the committee were to normal daily life.
Prisoners said the regular diet was a breakfast of maize porridge without salt or sugar, followed by the staple maize meal served with boiled kale or cabbage or beans for lunch and supper.
“We only get running water three times a week and that is a health hazard,” one prisoner said, urging lawmakers to take a look at the toilets in their cells.
The lawmakers heard stories of men and women surviving on scant meals, sometimes going without basic medication and warmth at night.
Chikurubi’s Pambayi backed them up, telling legislators that cash shortages meant prison authorities were failing to provide blankets, medicines and other essential care for prisoners.
At a prison hospital in Chikurubi, sick prisoners could be seen lying on the floor. Essential drugs, including painkillers and antibiotics, are in short supply.
“The situation is bad here, we do not have basic drugs like antibiotics. We encourage relatives of sick inmates to provide medicines,” said matron Jean Mutusvu.
Prisoners also complained about power and water cuts.
“There is definitely nothing positive that you get out of prison, especially given the conditions we are living under where there is overcrowding, lack of food and sometimes ill-treatment from the authorities,” an inmate said.
President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, spent 10 years as a political prisoner, during which he earned two law degrees before going on to lead one wing of a guerilla war against white minority rule.
Critics blame his government’s policies for crippling Zimbabwe’s economy.
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