No justice behind bars

HARARE - A masculine Jacob Harineki is easily recognisable as he strolls into the prison yard with his jail garb boldly emblazoned LIFE.

Branded, Harineki knows that unless something extraordinary happens — an amnesty perhaps — then he is in prison to stay. The hands of time are slower and everyday is a pain.

He regrets to this day and remembers it like yesterday when he was incarcerated as a 17-year-old for torching his boss’s house, an inferno that left the house in ashes and killed his boss in the process.

Now 19-years into his life sentence, Harineki is respected in a prison that currently holds 1 910 prisoners instead of 1 300.

Pointing to a red crest sewn onto his prison apparel as a symbol for a promoted prisoner, the inmate tells of his road to reforming.

With the presidential amnesty his only hope for freedom, the stocky Harineki fears that he may never walk out of the gates of Chikurubi.

Unlike in other countries Zimbabwe has no option for permanent release of a prisoner before the expiry of a sentence based on good behaviour.

“I don’t see myself getting out anytime soon because of the system we have. I have been on good behaviour for the last 19 years but all I have to show for it is being put in charge of other prisoners. But that’s not enough,” he says.

Herineki is not the only one feeling hard done by the country’s justice system.

On the opposite side of town, where a rugged and pothole-filled road leads to Chikurubi Female Prison, a convicted activist Yvonne Musarurwa is still to be sentenced despite it being now close to three months since she was found guilty of murder with intent.

Musarurwa was one of four MDC members who were convicted over the 2011 murder of a policeman during disturbances in Harare’s Glen View suburb.

She was convicted by High Court judge Chinembiri Bhunu along with Tungamirai Madzokere and Last Maengahama for murdering police Inspector Petros Mutedza with actual intent while a fourth MDC member, Phineas Nhatarikwa, was found guilty of being an accessory for ferrying the other accused persons from the scene of the crime.

Now more than 70 days later that sentence is still to be delivered and Musarurwa is rotting with 81 other female prisoners on remand at Chikurubi Female Prison.

“Our justice system should improve,” she says.

“I have been here for close to three months, just waiting for sentencing. They should just sentence us and we move on...If I had been sentenced on 8 September when I was sent here, right now I could have served for three months. But as I speak there is not even a date for sentencing. I was found guilty so ngavangotitonga nyangwe zvikanzi 50 years handina kana pressure (They should just sentence us, even if they give me 50 years I have already accepted it).”

Even behind bars, in squalid conditions Musarurwa seems to be at home. She spoke glowingly of the great lengths that her defence council in Charles Kwaramba and Beatrice Mtetwa have gone to push for a judgment which have all hit a brick wall.

Despite her circumstances she still speaks of her political affiliation with glee.

“I will never stop (supporting the MDC). I can only be stopped by God. Staying here has actually strengthened my resolve.”

Chikurubi Female Prison like all other prisons in Zimbabwe is facing a myriad of problems.

“Our biggest problem is sadza vakomana, diet yedu is not good, but otherwise we are staying well with the officers….maybe it’s because of the economy.

Fortunately we have donors who come to assist here and there. But to tell the truth we no longer know what meat tastes like, we don’t know what bread tastes like.”

Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) deputy officer commanding Harare province Elizabeth Banda admitted that the female prisoners’ basic rights were being violated by lack of sanitary pads.

“Sanitary wear is a thorny issue at this place it makes us crack our heads all the time, even hospital fees are now beyond us because we don’t have the money. Our budget is zero from fiscus. It’s not forthcoming at the moment. We have our own initiatives but it is not adequate.”

She spoke as 20 prisoners of Malawian origin have been rotting at Chikurubi Female Prison for the last two weeks over the absence of $24 bus fare to repatriate them back home.

The Malawians have been wasting away at the century old prison together with 17 babies who are locked up along with their mothers.

The only female prison in the Zimbabwean capital is also currently home to three pregnant women and a 16-year-old girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as three local 17-year-old juveniles.

Banda bemoaned lack of vehicles to ferry female prisoners to hospital.

“Our biggest challenge here is transport. We house all forms of women. Some are expecting mothers, but we only have one ambulance the whole province. So if we have an inmate that goes into labour at night we have all sorts of challenges,” Banda said.

“Even taking prisoners to court is a challenge as we only have one car that is shared with Chikurubi maximum.  So all in all in the province we have two-and-a half trucks which is generally not enough.  If one breaks down, it’s a nightmare of which one is already done so. “Although we are not able to meet the dietary needs I am happy that we are stable and we are having some projects to supplement our dietary scale.”

Despite inadequate funding, ZPCS is currently providing empowerment programmes including inmates receiving educational and professional qualifications as well as various rehabilitation activities.

One of the rehabilitation centres is Connemara Open Prison which houses male inmates who are allowed to go on home leave during their prison terms.

Through these programmes a Harare Central Prison inmate, Agrippa Guti, is now part of the Dynamos Football Club set up after impressing during a social match between the Harare giants and prisoners last month.

Guti who is behind bars for extortion made the most of his chance for redemption when he starred in a losing cause for a prisoners’ side against Dynamos.

The inmates received no mercy in a five-nil hiding by a predominantly junior DeMbare side to mark the Africa Prisons and Correctional Services Day at Gwanzura Stadium.

But the bright spark in the form of attacking midfielder, Guti, who won the praises of Dynamos manager Richard Chihoro, did not go unnoticed.

However ZPCS wants to see the justice system doing more to support their rehabilitation programmes by offering parole.

Currently,  government institutions do not employ ex-convicts rendering the rehabilitation programmes being done by ZPCS academic.

“It would come in a big way,” said Banda.

“In other countries one is given a certain period on probation where they are monitored to see how best they have fared in terms of rehabilitation (before you are let back onto the streets). It would do us a world of good otherwise we are just wasting resources.”

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