INHUMAN conditions at the country’s prisons have been exposed in a court application by human rights lobby group, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and a former inmate, Taurai Mbewe who are seeking to compel Treasury to release funds for the construction of more prison facilities.
BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
The applicants cited the Commissioner-General of Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS), Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, Health minister Constantino Chiwenga as well as Finance minister Mthuli Ncube as respondents.
Mbewe was detained at Harare Remand Prison between June 15 and August 19, 2020 on charges of unlawful entry and is awaiting trial at Mbare Magistrates’ Court.
He is challenging the respondents over the inhuman conditions in prisons which he was exposed to during his detention.
In his founding affidavit, Mbewe said the section where he was detained, which is generally reserved for Class C inmates, was extremely over-crowded with between 50 and 55 inmates in place that should accommodate less than 30.
“During transportation to court from prison, and back to prison from court, the congestion in the prison trucks was always extreme. On each trip, there could be as many as 50 to 60 or more inmates in that truck, whose ventilation is poor, and whose capacity is well below those high numbers,” Mbewe and the NGO Forum said.
“These cramped conditions at prison, on the vehicles that transport us to court, in the holding cells at the courts, and in many other instances within the prison system, eliminate the opportunity for us inmates to socially distance, as per the recommendations of health experts.”
Mbewe said in respect of COVID-19 prevention, prison authorities supplied him with a face mask only and was not supplied with sanitisers.
“Medical facilities in prison are under-resourced. For instance, during the time of my detention, I once asked for stomach pain medication, but was told by prison officials that I should just drink water, and I would be fine,”
Mbewe claimed many people in the cells were not in good health and constantly coughed and sneezed and many were afflicted with diarrhoea, but were not separated from the rest.
“The cells are generally dirty, and there are constant water shortages. As prisoners, we did not get bath soap from the prison, the diet was very poor. I did not feel safe at all in prison as I realised that the potential for contracting COVID-19 or other commonly known diseases was extremely high. I survived by the grace of God.”
NGO Forum executive director Musa Kika also submitted an affidavit in support of Mbewe, saying the application was particularly tied to prevailing COVID-19-related problems, threats and risks.
“This issue being clearly tied to the right to life and the right to health, among other rights and freedoms; and the question of enforcement and protection of human rights being part of the forum’s mandate, we humbly submit that first applicant is a suitable party to institute these proceedings, in representative and institutional capacities; acting in the public interest,” Kika said.