HARARE - Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) boss yesterday attributed the prison riots which left five prisoners dead at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison recently to external political shenanigans meant to discredit President Robert Mugabe’s rule.
The attempted prison break, occured at lunchtime on March 13 at the Chikurubi Maximum security prison in Harare. The inmates were protesting against the relish — vegetables (munyemba, cowpeas) — they had been given, which they did not want.
In the melee, 23 inmates and 19 officers were injured.
Agrey Huggins Machingauta, ZPCS deputy commissioner general, told the Defence and Security parliamentary portfolio committee yesterday, that the protests were engineered by opposition forces bent on discrediting Mugabe.
He said: “The Chikurubi Maximum prison incident was really unfortunate and influenced by outside forces and politically-motivated... the motive behind the rioters’ behaviour was mainly to escape from prison in order to shame the ZPCS and the nation at large.
“You may recall that the timing coincided with the visit of His Excellency to Japan, hence the calculation was to embarrass the head of state whilst he is in a foreign country.
“Yes, we admit that they were eating sadza nemunyemba (cowpeas), which is not very pleasant but we have had food shortages before.”
He claimed the ZPCS probe team had caught wind of the plan two weeks before it happened.
“The situation of Friday the 13th was saved from an en masse escape,” he said.
“The scenario was designed that all the 2 293 dangerous inmates were going to walk out of the prison. The information that we got is that they were meant to go and attack senior government officials and they really wanted to go,” he said.
Admitting that “a hungry man is an angry man,” Machingauta claimed internal investigations had revealed nefarious communication between the rioting prisoners and unnamed outsiders — through visitors.
“We actually have names,” he said.
“Within the prison, they had formed committees with chairpersons and this lady would come from outside to visit the chairman and pass on information.
“In 2007 and 2008, we actually lost lives in our prisons because of lack of food but we never experienced a riotous situation, so we wouldn’t want to buy the idea that it caused the riots.
“The inmates used it to try and cover up the outside influence. The outsider had also recruited our own officers, members of the ZRP and defence forces and intelligence.” He admitted his claims were “difficult to prove.”
Apart from food shortages, Machingauta said the prison was plagued with staff shortages and lack of surveillance cameras and metal detectors.
He also said the country’s 46 prisons are overwhelmed, holding nearly 20 000 inmates against a carrying capacity of 17 000.
“The number of inmates continues to rise,” he said. “We had budgeted for 15 000 but now we have 20 000. The food we got after the riots runs out beginning of June. This will continue as long as VaChinamasa (Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa) vasina kutipa mari (fails to give us money) to fund production at our farms.”