The grim tale of a suspected thief who spent two months in remand prison, with intestines hanging out of his slit stomach, held in a plastic bag, made very depressing reading.
That a man could live with such a gruesome injury, literally disembowelled, amongst other people, including responsible officers of the law, and that even previous magistrates and judges had seen him in that state and ordered that he be returned to prison without ensuring his urgent treatment, is equally disturbing.
Just what would be going on in a human mind when they find it quite ordinary that another human being should continue to suffer such pain and indignity of their human body, for two months?
How did those other prisoners that spent days with Boas Chiwanza, and slept next to him throughout the nights, feel to have one of their own treated worse than an animal?
The reasons that prison officers gave in court for their failure to have Chiwanza’s ripped stomach stitched included that there was no fuel to take him to hospital, that there was no vehicle, that they arrived late at the hospital and that there was no doctor to attend to him.
There could not be worse excuses than these, given the gravity of the prisoner’s condition.
It is no secret that there are senior prison officers who demand, and are given, daily fuel allocations to travel to and from their farms on a daily basis.
Hundreds of prisoners fail to have their day in court because a prison does not have 10 litres of diesel, while large volumes of fuel are burnt on the highways for non-core activities.
It is not easy to accept or to believe responsible officers in whose hands the lives of thousands of as-yet-innocent suspects are entrusted, could live with a person in Chiwanza’s condition because they have failed to secure an appointment with a surgeon at Parirenyatwa Hospital or Harare Central Hospital, for a whole two months!
The officer-in-charge of Harare Remand Prison, Chief Superintendent Billiot Chibaya, sought to convince the court that he had indeed made efforts to get Chiwanza treated, but for two months, he had failed, resulting in the prisoner living with his intestines hanging out of a festering stomach wound.
All of a sudden however, Chibaya was able, within a day of a court order, to deliver Chiwanza to hospital for treatment.
Remand prison holds suspects and not convicts.
But even convicted prisoners are entitled to certain human rights.
Even though they may be deprived of their liberty, prisoners still have entitlement to such rights as medical treatment.
As demonstrated by the gruesome spectacle at our courts this week, it is evident that prisoners in Zimbabwe are deprived of very basic human rights, often with the cooperation of the prison authorities.
Our courts should, in such cases where ill-treatment of prisoners is so exposed, be seen to be taking action against the responsible prison officials.
We believe it is not only inhuman, but also criminal to keep somebody in one’s custody in the state in which Chiwanza appeared in court this week.