July 11, 2009
HARARE – The Judge President, Rita Makarau, yesterday said it is the duty of all judicial officers to protect the rights of prisoners.
Makarau was speaking at a meeting of human and prisoner’s rights stakeholders organised by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) in Harare.
“It is the duty of all judicial officers to protect the rights of prisoners. They must be invited to these training workshops and trainings,” said Makarau.
“Prisoners do have rights and at the High Court we are guided by the provisions of the Supreme Court and that should also be applied down to the magistrate courts.“
Makarau’s colleague and fellow High Court judge, Charles Hungwe, also told the meeting that the business of protecting the rights of prisoners does not only lie with the prisons.
“The magistrates can make unscheduled visits to any prisons. In future it will be appropriate for the Provincial Magistrate to keep an eye on what is happening at the prisons rather than just (viewing) the magistrates’ courts. They must make more frequent visits to the prisons to see what should be done,” said Hungwe.
Hungwe said he had to personally intervene to try and save the situation at Mutare prison which had become overcrowded because of the huge number of people who were arrested in the Chiadzwa diamond fields.
“Mutare Prison was overcrowded. There was a sudden influx of prisoners due to the Chiadzwa diamond rush. The police were bussing three 75-seater buses full of prisoners to court but after the granting of bail the prisoners could not pay bail,” said Hungwe.
“The result was that at some stage food stocks ran out and prisoners had to sleep standing, I made the decision to release the accused on free bail,” said Hungwe.
Speaking at the same meeting an official from the Zimbabwe Prison Service (ZPS) painted a bleak picture of the prisons.
“The Zimbabwe Prison Service has been unable to satisfy any of its mandatory obligations due to the fact that we were heavily incapacitated. We have now become an embarrassment to the criminal justice system,” said Washington Chimboza, the Deputy Commissioner of Prisons.
According to the Prisons General Regulations of 1996 the Zimbabwe Prison Services should provide adequate food to inmates but has been failing to do so.
“Food commodities spelt out in the statutory instrument have not been provided. Since 2006 we have experienced the worst and highest death rate in the history of the service. The most severe cases were experienced in 2008 when pellagra was rampant in our prisons,” said Chimboza.
“Malnutrition acted as a catalyst to most deaths given that where cases of opportunistic infections were evident, it was impossible to commence medication since there was no food in the country in general and particularly in the prisons.”
The Prison Service requires 500 tonnes of maize-meal a month to feed a prison population of 13 000 inmates. The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) is supposed to supply ZPS with these requirements but has not been able to do so.
ZPS administers a total of 46 prisons and 26 satellite prisons throughout the country. These prisons include the old type built at the turn of the last century, such as the Harare Central Prison, Masvingo Remand Prison and modern structures built after independence such as Kadoma, Mutare Farm, Chipinge and Khami Maximum Prisons. While the official holding capacity is 17 000, the current prison population stands at around 12 971, comprising 10 299 convicted and 2 672 remand prisoners.
The female population stands at 694.
“Our inability to honour such a mandatory obligation has caused untold suffering to the inmate population in our custody,” said Chimboza.
“The little food procured has not been prepared under healthy conditions since all the cooking pots we had have seen their days. Of the 26 pots at Chikurubi Maximum none is working and this has led to the creation of a temporary kitchen where iron cast posts are in use.”
“We have resorted to using drums sourced from neighbouring Lafarge Cement.”
He added that they had not been able to transport inmates to court for either remand or trial to the extend of requesting that the canteen at Marondera Prison be converted into a court house for further remand.
“The security vehicles, the only four Mercedes Benz Atego trucks have been parked since August 2008 because we could not afford to repair and service them,” said Chimboza.
Chimboza said the water situation has been equally dire.
“The water situation in our prisons is very poor. Chikurubi Prison Complex has gone for five years without ZINWA providing any water,” said Chimboza.
“This shortage has seen the birth of water borne diseases due to inadequate cleanliness.”
The government recently passed a resolution allowing relatives of inmates to provide clothing and other necessities to prisoners. Chimboza said the community will have to come on board to safe the situation.
“Inmates do not lose their right to health care by virtue of being in custody,” said Chimboza.