A PARLIAMENTARY portfolio committee on Defence and Home Affairs on Tuesday condemned conditions at Harare Central Police Station holding cells, describing them as inhuman.
Police officers at Harare Central told the committee that suspects slept on
bare floors as there were no blankets and cleaned themselves with naked hands after using the toilet due to unavailability of toilet paper. Suspects survived on only one meal a day as a result of food shortages.
“I think this is inhuman. If someone is an accused person he still has human rights. I think it is negative,” said committee chairperson and Zanu PF Bikita West MP, retired Colonel Claudius Makova.
“When we are here as MPs today, tomorrow we may also be here as suspects,” he noted.
Makova exonerated the police for the deplorable conditions saying these were a result of inadequate budgetary allocations from treasury.
A tour of the complex showed that the sewer system was in some instances blocked causing urine to drip from the fourth floor to the ground. Cells were suffused with foul odour with some parts of the ceiling falling in.
Inspector Virginia Chabvuta, officer commanding cells at the station, said cells and toilets were being cleaned using water only because there were no detergents.
The officer commanding Harare Central, Superintendent Joseph Mandizha, said the station was crumbling due to underfunding.
“The whole system is collapsing and needs to be revitalised. We have not been allocated enough money,” said Mandizha.
“We do not have resources and we do not have manpower. It gives the officers stress, but we do the job. Morale is not very good but at least they are happy that they have a job to do.”
Last October, Commissioner Augustine Chihuri told the same committee that the police force was “dangerously underfunded”.
Chihuri said although the force had requested $27 trillion from treasury, they were told that there was only $1,7 trillion.
Although the cells, which have a holding capacity of 168, were said to be less crowded during weekdays, the situation was said to be different during the month of February and at weekends.
An officer said the cells were overcrowded during February due to demonstrators, while during weekends it was crammed because of a number of operations carried out by the police to curb criminal activity.
Police at Matapi in Mbare failed to fool the committee into believing sanitary conditions at the station had improved when the committee was chaperoned through pristine cells.
MPs raised concerns that everything had been stage-managed when they were taken through empty cells and shown blankets, toilets and walls in clean condition.
Committee member and the MDC Mutare North MP Giles Mutsekwa said everything had been stage-managed. “We are not kids who can be fooled by such a charade,” he said.
Inspector Maxwell Mukuze in charge of the police station said all the suspects had been taken to court and no one had been arrested so far during that day.
He stunned legislators when he said suspects were having three meals per day adding that he could not complain about police salaries as they were “okay”.
He also said there was never a time when Matapi police cells were overcrowded.
In contrast, suspects at Highlands said they had not been given food since last week and were surviving on sharing food brought from home for those who had relatives nearby.
Highlands police, however, complied with Supreme Court’s requirements such as providing flushing mechanisms to toilets from within the cells and screening the toilets from the rest of the cells to allow inmates to relieve themselves in private.
At the station, the only female suspect who was in police custody said since being detained on Monday at 1pm she had not eaten anything by noon the following day.
The Supreme Court deplored conditions at Matapi and Highlands after Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and Justices Wilson Sandura, Misheck Cheda, Luke Malaba and Elizabeth Gwaunza toured Highlands during a constitutional case brought by Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Wellington Chibebe who applied to have the cells condemned after being detained there the previous year.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights last month in a statement deplored the state of the cells at Matapi police station after police detained student leaders there. The lawyers said the cells did not have running water and ablution facilities were broken down. They said those detained were not given blankets and were forced to sleep on dirty floors.