Ex-convicts deserve a chance


Two months ago, I wrote about a woman who was failing to integrate with her family following her release from Chikurubi Prison early this year.

Saturday Dialogue with Ropafadzo Mapimhidze

She had been sentenced to 240 days for fraud involving millions of Zimdollars, during the transitional period when the local currency changed to US dollars in 2009.

During the interview, she constantly broke down in tears as she related how she felt isolated by her family and spouse.

Her mother had given her three months to sort herself out before she could reunite fully with her children.

The greatest challenge, however, was how she was going to fend for these children with no source of income.

“My husband is not working and I was the breadwinner when I was jailed.

“Although I live with my husband, we now live like strangers since I returned home in January this year. I am not sure if he fears that I might do something worse.”

And indeed she has found herself in a much deeper problem.

A source who claims to be a family friend in Harare, has informed this newspaper that she and her friend are being held in China after they were found in possession of drugs which were destined for Japan.

It is believed that the drugs had been given to them by some West Africans, who were expected to share the spoils as soon as they had dispatched this package to its destination.

“Authorities in China allegedly called a relative in Malawi informing this person of her arrest,” the source said.
Her parents are of Malawian origin and she was using a Malawian passport when she was arrested.

The source who broke the news to NewsDay on Wednesday last week said her family was keeping this information under wraps.

However, Rita Nyamupinga, a veteran gender activist who runs a non-governmental organisation that deals with ex-prisoners Female Prisoners Support Trust, blamed her family for not giving her the necessary support when she was released from Chikurubi Prison.

“The mother does not want to speak about her daughter because perhaps she did not expect her to land in more trouble.

“This is a very emotional issue and that obviously is natural for a mother to behave that way. Deep down in her heart she is hurting.

“I, however, feel that she should not have given her an ultimatum because when a person is imprisoned, nobody trusts them. This is why my organisation aims at restoring the dignity of ex-prisoners through reintegration and reunification with their families,” Nyamupinga said.

Chinese law imposes the death penalty for anyone found smuggling more than 50 grams of heroin, and many death row inmates have been convicted of smuggling.

A source in China, however, said the country’s new constitution does not allow execution for foreigners.

“She was a woman with great expectations, but landed in the wrong hands because she was desperate. The West Africans allegedly involved gave her a parcel to pass onto someone as bait and if you succeed, they give you another one fully packed with drugs.

“Sometimes the couriers are not even aware that they are carrying prohibited drugs as these would be sealed and tightly secured at the bottom of a suitcase,” Nyamupinga said.

Nyamupinga also blamed the economic problems facing many families for these crimes.

“I heard one woman tell me that a relative was sentenced to 10 years in China for pushing drugs,” Nyamupinga said.

When inmates walk away from a prison, they leave the structured environment of prison, in which they are at least guaranteed a bed, meals and basic health care, and return to a world full of temptations.

Since families are often less than enthusiastic about their return, it should be no surprise that ex-convicts have high rates of either unemployment or homelessness.

“If you return an ex-convict to the community with nothing and no support systems, you can just about guarantee that that person is going to resort to some kind of criminal behaviour,” Nyamupinga said.

These people sometimes come back dangerously ill in many cases with chronic conditions like HIV and Aids.

Some ex-convicts suffer from life-threatening conditions that require daily dosages of medication.

Nyamupinga urged the woman’s mother to find her way to China and find out exactly what is happening to her daughter.

“We would like to urge Chinese authorities to release her, but the problem is that we do not know exactly the nature of her crime. She may be regarded Malawian, but she spent all her life in Zimbabwe and home is in Zimbabwe.”


  1. A very sad story, a very tragic outcome. Rehabilitation and protection of society should be the goals of the prison system.

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