Fortious Nhambura Senior Features Writer
Food riots rocked Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Harare on Friday 13, 2015. The riots left five prisoners dead and a number injured. Zimbabwe was shocked. What had gone wrong at a place that is usually a sanctuary of peace and order?
What ocurred at Chikurubi could have been averted had prison authorities moved in with haste to address the inmates’ concerns of food shortages that for years have been a matter of record.
Importantly, this could have been done without begging for alms from Government but using the available resources and opportunities that are available to the correctional services.
According to media reports, the inmates had grumbled of poor diet for some weeks.
Former employees and children who grew up in the camp said it was most unfortunate that the ZPS, which used to produce in excess of its demand, was now always under threat of hunger. One person who grew up at Chikurubi camps recalls the abundance of food that characterised the bustling camp.
“The moment we heard the bell ringing, we would grab the milk jugs in one hand and a coupon in the other and rush for the queue. The milk will be saved by a prisoner under the Class ‘A’ category, who we had christened ‘staff’,” said Angel now in her late 20s.
Staff was the name they used to call all prisoners those days.
Excess milk from the prison dairy project would be sold to schoolchildren for 30 cents a litre.
“We used to drink lots of milk those days because there was always plenty from the Chikurubi dairy farm. Back then some enterprising women would buy the milk for resale in Mandara and Mabvuku suburbs,” said Angel, one of the children who grew up at the camp in the 1990s.
Such were the days when we used to see dairy cows in the paddock with large dams of milk. At the Chikurubi Prison farm there were lots of the cows, beef cattle and pigs.
The prisoners also used to produce lots of maize in the fields and horticultural crops.
Back then food was abundant for both the prisoners and prison officers’ families.
The well irrigated farm used to produce in abundance.
The Chikurubi Maximum Prison Farm was a model of self-sustaining prison camp.
This was not only the case with regards to farming but many others among them Chawagonahapana Prison Farm in Bindura, Mutimurefu Prison Farm outside Masvingo, Marondera Prison Farm and Mazowe Prison Farm.
The prison farms were indeed a marvel to watch.
Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services has 23 farms dotted across the country.
Unfortunately, these farms have failed to feed the 18 857 inmates.
Among their best farms are Chikurubi Prison farm consisting of not less than 830 hectares of prime farmland, Mazowe Prison farm and Khami Prison Farm outside Bulawayo which, at its peak, had more than 6 000 beef cattle.
Mr Aaron Topodzi of Karoi said the riots a Chikurubi were an indictment of the administration of the prison services for failing to use the farms and labour at their disposal.
“The inmates in our prisons must be kept occupied. Remember an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services should utilise a lot of its farms dotted around the country to produce food for the inmates.
“Given the current budgetary constraints, the fiscus is not able to get money needed to meet budgetary demands amounting to $1,5 million per month.
“The way forward for ZPCS is for Government and its partners to equip prisons to become quasi-vocational centres, where inmates are trained in various skills with emphasis on horticulture and animal husbandry. Emphasis should be put on practical programmes that not only equip inmates for life after prison but also feed the prison population.
“I am sure if well co-ordinated the produce from these ventures can feed the prisoners and surplus used to feed the nation. Our prison farms should be fully utilised, eventually being weaned from the national purse,” he said.
“The arable land, most of which is irrigable, can produce lots of maize, beans and vegetables for the inmates.
Mrs Matilda Danda of Hatfield questioned why the Prisons and Correctional Services was failing to utilise the manpower it had at its disposal to engage in projects that adequately provide food for its inmates.
“Where are we getting it wrong? We grew up knowing that prisoners work in these prison farms but it seems that is no longer the case in the country. It is high time the ZPCS moves to the old way of doing things that gave them results. Always crying to Government will not bring any positives but food riots as experienced last week,” she said.
According to a report by the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Human Rights on the State of Prisons and Prisoners last year, living conditions of prisoners are worsening due to budgetary constraints.
The report noted that there was an acute shortage of basic requirements for prisoners. Lack of toiletries, ablution facilities and the unavailability of water for a long time at some prisons were disturbing.
“The committee recommends increasing productivity on prison farms to enable prisons to be self-sufficient in food supplies. It added that crop farming in prison farms should no longer be rain-fed, but be supplemented by irrigation schemes.
“The committee also recommends Government supply prison farms with adequate farming inputs and also recommends that a variety of livestock be kept at the prison farms in order to improve prisoners’ diet,” the report said.
Thomas Murisa of Waterfalls, Harare, said new projects should be instituted by prisons to feed the nation.
“The prison authorities must think outside the box and devise ways of self-sustenance. Government has other pressing and competing obligations to meet and it cannot satisfy this budgetary demand.
“ZPCS must create its own revenue base that includes hiring out labour, entering into partnerships with the private organisations to produce cash crops like tobacco and soyabeans on a large-scale so that they can get extra cash for the upkeep of the prisoners,” he said.
The ZPCS has a glut of skills that should be used in running self-sustenance projects.
For instance, the prison services can come up with a viable garment factory that will not only keep inmates busy but help in preparing the prisoner for life after jail. In such a project what is only needed is some training for the inmates, some of whom are already skilled in the area.
Heavy-duty sewing machines can be acquired through a partnership with banks or private companies. Once this is operational it will ensure that ZPCS can produce its own prison garb and can be contracted to produce clothing for other sectors like the uniformed forces.
This will save millions of dollars for ZPCS as well help generate income for other needs. Those inmates must be taught to work and produce for their needs.
With a farm complement of 23 ZPCS must now specialise on crops depending on the farm’s location and use the money realised not only to feed the inmates but improve prison facilities. Questions sent to ZPCS had not been responded to by time of print.
However, ZPCS spokesperson Chief Superintendent Elizabeth Banda Karinda last week said they were in the process of instituting a commission of inquiry into the disturbances.
She said there could have been more to the riots than the condition of food as the prison had more severe food shortages in 2008 and 2009 but never experienced such disturban- ces.
“Were also appealing to friends and relatives of our inmates to bring food for their relatives because we’re facing shortages of funds to buy adequate food. Generally, we haven’t been receiving enough funds from Treasury to buy standard food that is prescribed by Government. We have since resorted to substituting some of the food with cheaper ones. When we’re supposed to serve the inmates meat, we settle for beans because it is cheaper for us.”
Riots in prisons the world over are a cause concern especially when they take place at high security facilities like Chikurubi which hold violent criminals. It is most terrifying to think of notorious criminals coming together to wreak havoc as what happened at the prison on the fateful day.
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