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Zimbabwe prisons ‘worse than hell’

Human rights activists urge Zimbabwe to address appalling prison conditions

World Bulletin / News Desk

Prisons anywhere in the world are horrible places for any human being, but activists in Zimbabwe describe the cells in their country as “worse than hell”.

Linda Masarira is a 34-year-old popular Zimbabwean female protester, who has had several run-ins with authorities. It was she who compared the country’s prisons, especially the Chikurubi Maximum to hell.

Prisoners on remand
Prisoners on remand

About her “horrific” encounters, Masarira, who is a mother of five, alleged she was treated like an animal during her stay in prison, especially last July when she was incarcerated.

During her months-long ordeal, she noticed that most female inmates did not even have shoes on despite the fact that the prison had overflowing sewerage.

“I am yet to be convicted but I was meant to work in the fields and fetch water; unfortunately, we had no shoes and [we were] forced to walk into sewer effluent,” Linda told the Anadolu Agency in the capital Harare.

Linda said she was placed with 79 other inmates in a cell meant for 15 people, risking the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis. “I saw several inmates whose conditions looked very desperate but were only surviving on painkillers. Once in three days we would be informed of someone who would have died and this shook me,” she said.

The water and food shortage is so acute at prisons that inmates rely on supplies from relatives; however, prison officers, who often complain about not receiving their salaries on time, would also steal food from inmates, she said.

Prisoners demonstrate how they sleep
Prisoners demonstrate how they sleep

Prison food supply consisted of porridge in the morning with no sugar, for lunch thick porridge known as pap or sadza in the region is given and the relish would be boiled vegetables like spinach in salty water and no cooking oil, she said.

“Once in a while we were served with thick porridge in a plate full of salty water and a few kapentas which we had to fish out of the plate,” she added.

She also said that on Sept. 9 when she went on a hunger strike along with a number of inmates against appalling prison conditions, she was beaten up before officials placed her in solitary confinement in the male section.

Her solitary cell was three-square meters big, with a toilet seat that rarely flushed and a slab that she had to use as a bed.

“I was deprived of food, bath and water for seven days, and when my lawyer finally got to know of this treatment, I was allowed food, but immediately I fell sick and I suspect it was food poisoning,” she said.

Other former inmates also said similar shocking conditions.

Ostallos Siziba, a 23-year-old student activist, said: “The cells were so overcrowded that when we slept we rearranged ourselves [en masse], facing one direction unless someone wanted to turn and everyone would turn at the same time.”

Siziba also said the 70 inmates in his cell had only “one chamber” toilet, which was flushed just once in two days.

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