Kudzai Nyoka (28) pleaded guilty in 2014 to swindling a Gweru man of thousands of dollars after masquerading as a Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) official and promising to get him a vehicle from the authority’s rummage sale auction at a mouth-watering price.
By Hazel Ndebele
In mitigation before Gweru magistrate Judith Taruvinga, Nyoka said she had committed the offence out of desperation after her husband had left her for another woman.
She said her brother had also left for Russia, leaving her as the family’s breadwinner.
Despite her emotional explanation, Nyoka still had to face the music and was therefore convicted in July that year and sent to jail.
A few months before sentence was passed, former president Robert Mugabe in February freed 3 000 prisoners under Presidential Pardon.
After spending two years in prison, in May 2016, Nyoka was freed on Presidential Pardon, but her freedom seems to be short-lived.
Barely two years after Nyoka was released from prison through the benevolence of the presidential amnesty, she is now in the dock to answer fresh charges of fraud.
Her story mirrors that of dozens of former inmates who have been incarcerated after getting their freedom back. In 2014, hardly three months after the first amnesty was passed, 62 of the freed prisoners were back in jail facing new criminal charges.
As the Justice ministry contemplates another presidential amnesty, stakeholders are now asking: who should really be considered for it and what could be done to avoid repeated offences by those who would have been pardoned? The presidential amnesty is currently granted to females, juveniles and senior citizens.
Nyoka, now 32, could face a lengthy sentence if found guilty of three counts emanating from posing again as a Zimra official to allegedly defraud unsuspecting people of US$34 604. The value of the recovered property was US$9 890.
She was recently denied bail when she appeared before Harare magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa, who considered that Nyoka was in 2014 convicted of fraud and is also a flight risk.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent recently, Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the ministry has this year requested amnesty for 2 000 prisoners.
“The country’s prisons are overpopulated and the current prison population stands at 19 090 and exceeds the holding capacity of 17 000 prisoners. The illegal immigrant population stands at 207,” Ziyambi said.
“This is why we have requested for amnesty to 2 000 prisoners. These will include all female prisoners, those above 60 years. The majority of our budget (Ministry of Justice) is taken up by prisons provisions.”
The presidential amnesty is also granted to ease congestion at the prisons. Overcrowding at prisons has led to immense food shortages, which can subsequently cause death. An estimated 100 prisoners die in Zimbabwe’s prisons every month due to various illnesses related to overcrowding and malnutrition.
Ziyambi said his ministry has since appealed to the Ministry of Agriculture to give them farming equipment and inputs for the prisons farms to grow their own food.
Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender chief executive Edson Chiota said a lot of work needs to be done to rehabilitate ex-convicts.
“Presidential Pardon should be as per our constitution extended to a certain group; however, there is need to enlighten the general public in this discourse. For instance, let’s say an individual is pardoned for rape, it would be difficult for the community where the person committed the offence to understand why they have been freed. If these prisoners are rejected by their communities, they are bound to commit the same crime for them to go back to prison where they are accepted,” Chiota said.
“The President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) needs to interact with stakeholders and the public on the living conditions in prisons and explain the need for Presidential Pardon. Although cases of re-offences are there, they are isolated and in cases where they are many, you will notice that they consist mainly of jailbirds or those short sentenced.”
Chiota said short-sentenced crimes are usually cases of pickpocketing and shoplifting and it is therefore easy to commit the same crimes over and over again.
He said his organisation offers counselling services to prisoners, including those who would have been pardoned, in order to help them avoid re-offencing.
Another non-profit organisation, the Zimbabwe Prison Oriented Orphans Care, which caters for children of inmates who die in prison as well as incarcerated guardians, has petitioned Mnangagwa for clemency, arguing that the worsening economic situation had driven their breadwinners into crime.
Zimbabwe’s economy is floundering with independent estimates showing that 90% of the population is unemployed.
“Our 2017 baseline showed that most crimes have their base on the socio-economic problems facing the nation. It is evident that most crimes resulted from our non-performing economy and employment. Given another chance in a performing economy, inmates can do better as some are qualified people and this will aid in proper socialisation to their children,” reads the letter written to Mnangagwa by the organisation’s director Tafadzwa Kambarami.
“It is against this background that since the country got another chance to celebrate a different kind of independence, we humbly pray that all those with crimes of economic nature and politically aligned be considered for presidential pardon.”
Asked on his view on those who recommit the same crimes after being pardoned, Kambarami said: “Re-offence can occur. However, as an organisation we always reintegrate and rehabilitate inmates. Recidivism, most of the times, is mainly caused by stigmatisation or rejection by society.”