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Zimbabwe: prisons under siege as Zimbabwe’s economic woes persist

The Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare is crumbling at the seams, assailed by overcrowding and a critical shortage of medicines, food and other basics as the economically-crippled country battles to care for its inmates.

Convicts and wardens alike bemoan packed cells where running water is erratic and shortages of food, clothes and bedding prevail.

Basic painkillers and antibiotics are impossible to come by, meaning prisoners risk dying from easily-treatable conditions.

“We don’t have drugs for… ailments like pneumonia and meningitis. We need a functioning X-ray machine. As of now, our machine is down and yet this is a basic tool required for diagnosis,” Blessing Dhoropa, a doctor at the prison hospital, said as lawmakers visited Chikurubi last week.

AFP correspondents saw prisoners wearing threadbare uniforms in the prison’s male and female sections.

Inside the cells, paint flaked off some walls and for bedding, prisoners had thin blankets on bare cement floors.

One complained the cells were infested with lice and other vermin.

Such conditions are common in Zimbabwe’s 46 prisons. They were built to collectively incarcerate 14,000 prisoners, but hold more than 20,000 today.

Chikurubi’s men’s section houses 2,508 inmates instead of the 1,360 it was designed for.

“Our population is much higher than we should hold,” conceded Senior Assistant Commissioner Alvord Gapare, who oversees jails in the Harare province.

Diet ‘not suitable’

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has condemned such “deplorable” conditions which it said “exposes inmates to illnesses and psychological trauma.”

In 2013, the body said, more than 100 prisoners died of malnutrition-related illnesses.

At Chikurubi, donors provide life-saving anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs for inmates who need it.

“I am HIV positive. Drugs for HIV are available. But other medicines, antibiotics… even the painkiller paracetamol, are not there,” 18-year-old prisoner Chiedza Chiwashira told members of parliament’s child welfare and justice committee on a fact-finding mission.

Another inmate complained there was “no medicine for epilepsy.”

And according to Gapare, Chikurubi’s only ambulance “is down”.

At Chikurubi, prisoners grumble about the staple diet of maize porridge without salt or sugar for breakfast, followed by the same, served with boiled kale, cabbage or beans, for lunch and dinner.

“Our diet is not suitable for people with ailments like diabetes and hypertension,” an inmate of the female section told the official visitors.

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Source — The South African

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