ZIMBABWE Prison Services (ZPS) has been hit by a critical shortage of food to feed more than 17 000 prisoners in the country’s 72 prisons, the Zimbabwe Independent has heard.
Sources within the prison services say government has failed to provide sufficient food supplies to the country’s prisoners resulting in many inmates suffering from food deficiency diseases such as scurvy and pellagra.
In an interview, Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of Offenders chief executive officer, Edison Chihota, said the situation has worsened since 2008 and government must act if it is to abate the crisis looming at the country’s prisons.
“The food situation in our prisons has not changed since 2008. In fact, we are at an all-time low and we are calling upon the Ministry of Justice to act swiftly in order to stem the looming crisis,” Chihota said.
“Yes we may argue prisoners are getting three meals per day but three meals of what? Imagine having porridge and tea without sugar and bread? Their lunch of sadza and spinach (vegetables) on a daily basis is not acceptable as it causes ill-health,” he said.
Chihota said his organisation is planning to meet with Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa as well as the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice so they can come up with measures to stop the impending disaster in prisons.
The 2011 withdrawal of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from feeding prisoners has severely compromised operations of the ZPS as government is not able to monitor the nutritional status of inmates and improve management of the food supply chain, prison department sources claim.
The ICRC had been helping government feed prisoners since 2008 when Zimbabwe’s economic crisis climaxed. It supplied prisoners with beans, groundnuts and oil, thus enhancing the nutritional status of inmates and vastly improving management of the food supply chain.
One of the acquitted MDC-T Glenview 29, Kerina Gweshe, said the food situation at prisons, especially Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison where she was incarcerated for close to 10 months, is shocking.
“I had become used to tea without sugar and that sadza and matemba is delicious as compared to sadza and boiled vegetables daily,” Gweshe said.
“For the 10 months I was incarcerated, we had sadza with meat not more than three times, except when my children brought me food from home,” she said.
Prison tours by the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Human Rights in 2012 proved prisoners’ conditions were dire.
However, ZPS public relations officer Elizabeth Banda refuted complaints of food shortages.
“The inmates are getting nutritious food but we have been having challenges with funds to buy meat since the government has not been giving us enough money,” said Banda.
“Since the ICRC’s pulling out the diet changed because we resorted to our traditional sadza and spinach. Meat has been a challenge, but we have alternatives. For example, in place of beef we give them double portions of beans,” she said.