Life in Chikurubi female prison

HARARE - Upon reaching the imposing wall and gate which secure Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, one cannot help but feel edgy because of the presence of several stern-looking guards.

The very old, half destroyed wooden bench where the soldiers sit tells a tale of what is happening on the inside of Harare’s biggest correctional facility.

The guards could not hide their excitement after being told I was a journalist from the Daily News, a privately-owned newspaper largely viewed as anti-government.

“What lies have you come to report about this time around?” one of the guards asked.

I just smiled and left the Zimbabwe Prisons Public Relations Officer Elizabeth Banda to respond to the inquisitive guards.

“She wants to find out how the female inmates live, so we have decided to let her see and make her own judgment,” Banda said.

I was immediately issued with a gate pass scribbled on a piece of paper after surrendering my passport and mobile phone.

We then embarked on our journey and along the way we met male prisoners fetching water from a borehole. I was immediately attracted to the green fields of soya beans.

The bean crop was really impressive but it was only on a small section of the farm considering that it is sitting on 853 hectares of land and is arguably one of the most productive farms in the country.

Even then, Banda said the farm was not fully productive because of lack of inputs like seed and fertiliser.

She also pointed out that the farm also had a dairy section but I actually see the cows.

Upon arrival at the female section, we were greeted by a team of prison officials who opened the gate.

We were escorted to the D section which houses inmates who suffer from mental illness.

The section also houses those convicted for serious crimes like murder.

I was pleasantly surprised when I entered into the small cells because they were spotlessly clean and blankets and personal effects of the inmates were neatly packed.

This is because my impressions of prison cells were shaped by information gleaned from women who were interviewed in a book published by Zimbabwe Women Writers in 2003 entitled: A tragedy of Lives; Women in Zimbabwe Prisons.

The book speaks of babies crawling on blood-stained floors and lice-infested prison cells. My conclusion after observing the neat cells was that maybe this would happen during the night when the prisoners will be locked up.

Inmates are usually locked up from about 4pm to 6am in the morning and a lot could happen during those hours.

My major concern was the fact that there were no toilets in these little cells where prisoners in the D section reside.

There is, however, one communal pit latrine in this section of the prison cells.

Cynthia Manjoro, who was part of the 29 Glen View activists accused of killing policeman Petros Mutedza in May 2011, said the experiences of living in a cell with no ablution left her feeling like she was no longer human.

“We used two litre bottles. We would cut the tops off and use them as our toilets from 4pm to 6am the following day.

“We also brushed our teeth in that same container too but the problem came when one had a stomach ache. We would then gather plastic bags and use them as toilets,” Manjoro, who spent about six months in prison, said.

The human rights activist who works as programmes manager for ZimRights added that: “You end up feeling like hausisiri munhu (I was no longer a human being). I am nothing now. I am just a statistic.”

At least two or three prisoners share this small cell of about two metres width by four metres length while the most dangerous sleep alone. But the absence of toilets in the cells presents a serious health hazard to the inmates.

I also noticed a good number of plastic two-litre and five-litre bottles which had their tops cut off, concluding that these were used as toilets during the 14 hour lock-down.

The situation in the other cells namely; A, B and C is pretty much the same except that these cells have a communal pit latrine which is partitioned by a small wall to provide inmates privacy and is about five metres in width by eight metres in length.

However, 28 inmates have to share these prison cells which make it a bit overcrowded.

Sister-in-charge at Chikurubi Female Prison Theodora Chadzingwa said women prisoners get three pads a day.

“We don’t limit pads because donors bring pads here. We actually have enough for everyone when they come we give them three at a time but it is not limited,” she said.

However, information gathered from inmates revealed some did not access what donors had supplied because they were afraid to enquire about the goods.

“Three weeks ago, Elshadai (a charitable organisation) came and donated 650 pants and 48x4 packs of socks but we are yet to receive the goods. This is an ongoing matter and sometime ago, MDC activists who were here demanded for those items,” an inmate said.

She added: “Donors even come with soap and lotions but they never find their way to us and one has to rely on toiletries brought by visitors but we have some people here who never get visitors and therefore have no access to these necessities and they end up doing what we call mabrasho they become servants of those who have and do laundry for them in exchange for soap and lotion.”

Yet another inmate alleged that Euna Guti, wife to founder of Zaoga church Ezekiel also visited the prison and donated pants but they never found their way to intended recipients.

I later established in another interview outside Chikurubi that the MDC activists who dared to enquire about goods donated were then removed and placed in the male maximum security prison.

The officer-in-charge, one Superintendent Chifodya refuted the claims by inmates saying all donations were equally distributed to prisoners.

“Donors dish out their own goods. They come here and tell us what they have and we take them to the prisoners and they give them. There are some cases when some donors will give some of the goods to prison guards,” said Chifodya.

She also said there were no issues of intimidation.

“There is no victimisation here we are all very forthcoming even if a prisoner has urgent issues to deal with, we allow them to use the phone,” she said.

It was encouraging to see that although the living conditions in prison might be harsh for the 211 inmates who have to share five cells, the system provided some rehabilitation measures that will benefit inmates after they finished serving their sentences. - Thelma Chikwanha, Features Editor

*To be continued in tomorrow.

Comments (4)

lookenfor may wife in aprison so i need help please may wife is name ikraan abdi dubed other one saamiya abdulaahi please phone me onthis number 27719650251

ahmed olaad osman - 11 December 2014

lovely pics.Represent ma country.

Charlie ka Siwela - 27 December 2014

Je suis interesse par votre site mais je ne comprend bien que le francais la publication en francais ne t elle pas disponible?

richard kashimotto - 26 March 2016

These are still people besides doing time the food, croudiness,filthiness oh dear lord I pray for all of them they are suffering dearly help your people

NOMSA MTHEMBU - 8 June 2018

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