Holding cells at Harare Central Police Station are choking with the smell of human excreta, forcing suspects to spend the night huddled in the corridors as they cannot sit inside due to the heavy stench, a women pressure group has revealed.
The Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza), which has threatened to sue Home Affairs co-ministers Kembo Mohadi and Theresa Makone over the inhuman and degrading conditions their members endured while detained in holding cells at the police station, said the situation in the cells at Harare Central Police Station was dire.
Lawyers representing the group’s members have already indicated their intentions to sue to the two co-ministers.
Jenny Williams, Magodonga Mahlangu, Clara Manjengwa and Sellina Madukani, represented by Belinda Chinowawa of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), want the Supreme Court to declare the conditions at Harare Central Police Station cells cruel and thus a violation of section 15 of the Constitution.
In a letter, dated August 25, 2010, sent to Mohadi, Makone and Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri, the women claimed that they endured the inhuman conditions in April this year following their arrest over a demonstration against poor service delivery by the Zimbabwe power utility, Zesa.
About 71 women activists were arrested and taken to Harare Central Police Station.
“On the 15th of April 2010, Woza conducted a demonstration against appalling service provision from the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa), which commenced around noon of that day in Harare,” Woza lawyers wrote to the ministers.
“Approximately half an hour later, a vehicle from the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Riot Squad arrived, and when armed police alighted, some of the protesters fled, while others remained resolute and did not flee.
“Our clients inform us that they were then forced to remove their shoes and all undergarments including brassieres and underpants until they each had a single top and bottom.
“It was clear from the circumstances and demeanour of the police details that this was a peremptory order, which all detainees were subjected to, in terms of the practice and rules at the Harare Central Police Station holding cells.”
In the cells, they said they were “choked” by the smell of human excreta and “flowing urine of varying colours”.
“Even the beds were covered with human excreta, so they sat and spent the night huddled in the corridors of the cells as they could not sit inside the cells due to the faeces. However, even the corridor itself had flowing urine and they had to use their own tissues to clean up the area where they planned to sit on.
“When they wanted to use the toilet, they discovered that it was inside the cells, and they had to wade through a small pool of urine to get there.
“The toilets had no running water and were already full with overflowing human excreta,” wrote the lawyers.
The women said the situation was “extremely humiliating, more so because Magodonga Mahlangu had a running stomach and had to use the toilet frequently.
“There was neither a hand basin nor soap in the cell so they could not wash their hands after using the toilet.
“During the night, they requested some blankets for warmth, and were given blankets which had clearly been dipped in and were reeking of urine.
“They gave them three blankets despite the fact that there was now a total of 16 detainees, as there were more people that had been arrested for varying offences unrelated to the demonstration.
“Due to the strong stench, they could not cover themselves with the blankets, and just put the blankets on the concrete floor so as to make their situation a little more comfortable.
“They spent a total of four nights in this insalubrious environment, and complaints to the police fell on deaf ears.”