Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison is on the outskirts of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.

The men confined here are held in overcrowded cells, measuring 9m by 4m. Typically speaking there are 25 men per cell. Each day the men are confined to their squalid cells between the hours of 3:30pm and 7:00am. Four to five times a week they are also locked up for the guards lunch break, between the hours of 11:30am and 1:00pm. There are no beds and so the men have to sleep on mats spread out over the crowded cell floor. Some inmates refuse to wash, which results in blankets becoming lice infested. There is a predominance of HIV positive, practising homosexuals within this rat and lice infested prison. The cells are shared with people in the terminal stages of AIDS, Tuberculosis, Herpes and other highly infectious diseases, as well as some prisoners who are mentally ill. Many of the infected prisoners are unable to control their bodily functions, and this results in the cell floor and blankets being contaminated with body fluids; pus, phlegm, blood, urine, faeces. This is in contravention of Article 24 of the International Bill of Human Rights, which covers the state providing a safe environment.

The sanitary conditions they are forced to live under are a terrible threat to their wellbeing. Each month they receive ˝ toilet roll and 1 ˝ small bars of laundry soap. Every 3 months they receive 25mls of toothpaste. Detergents and disinfectants are issued in such minimal amounts that they are non-effective. A ˝ cup of scouring powder (Vim) is issued each week, to clean eating utensils for 140 men.

The kitchen conditions are shocking. They do not use hot water for washing and often there are no detergents to clean cooking utensils. Stainless steel containers used for meat are left greasy. Floors, toilets and dining tables are cleaned with filthy pieces of old blankets, and there are no brooms or hosepipes. Diarrhoea and other stomach disorders are rife, whilst broken toilets remain unserviceable for years.

The food in prison is very meagre. Breakfast is at 8:30am, lunch 10:30am and supper 1:30pm. This leaves a 19-hour period every day without food. Breakfast consists of tea and bread. Lunch is a cup of boiled rice and a leafy, green vegetable boiled to a stage of no nutritional value. Supper is the same as lunch, with the exception that four times a week boiled minced beef or pork is substituted for the vegetable. Approximately 20 grams of mince is supplied and often it is rotten. It is not uncommon for prisoners to be charged with bestiality with the pigs that are bred for consumption in this prison. Sometimes the vegetable they are given is of a variety not fit for human consumption and occasionally it is contaminated with bugs and grass from the fields in which it is cultivated. Frequently rat faeces are cooked with their rice, and the medical milk ration is normally undrinkable due to it being sour or curdled. Since the decline in the Zimbabwean economy, even this low standard has deteriorated. The quality of food is in direct contravention of Section 20(1) of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. This states that every prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served.

The prison has only one pair of old, hand-operated hair-clippers. These clippers are infrequently sterilised and are used by all the prisoners, even those with lice and open body sores. On occasion, some prisoners have even used these clippers to remove pubic hair.

There is no hot water for showers in Zimbabwean prisons and so the men are restricted to cold water showers only, even in winter, when the ambient temperature can fall below 0°C. They are provided with small pieces of towel twice a year which soon wear out, and they then have to resort to using pieces of blanket (which may well be infected with lethal diseases) because they are not allowed to supply their own towels.

One small transistor radio is shared amongst 140 prisoners, they have no access to television or any other form of recreation. There are also no public telephones for prisoner use.

It would appear that the attitude of the Zimbabwe prison authorities is that people in prison have no rights and they are in jail to suffer. The concept of rehabilitation for offenders does not exist. Life imprisonment as defined by the Zimbabwe Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, Chapter 9.07 is "A complete deprivation of personal liberty", however this is in contradiction with guarantees in Section 15(1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and Article 5 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It constitutes degrading punishment contrary to Section 15(1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and violates human dignity, as they are permanently denied access to an inviolable domain of private life. In particular, such treatment constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment in that when they are not afforded any prospect of release, this keeps them in a mental state of depression and complete hopelessness.


Philip Conjwayo

Kevin Woods

Mike Smith

The "Harare 3" are the last three political prisoners from the South African apartheid era, and we hope that public opinion worldwide may help deliver these men from an appalling existence in a prison which breaches every single international Human Rights convention.

Philip Conjwayo, Mike Smith and Kevin Woods have been incarcerated in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Zimbabwe since 1988, following convictions based on evidence that included confessions made under extreme duress. For this reason alone, their convictions would be deemed unsafe by every judicial system in the civilised world.

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  • Pathetic prison conditions
    Human rights by Bright Chibvuri

    Prison conditions in Zimbabwe are in a horrible state. Despite recent measures by the authorites to reform them, overcrowding, sexual abuse, diseases and indequate food continue to take their toll on the inmates.

    A former female prisoner, Maria Chikwenje who served a two-year jail term, at Chikurubi prison deplored her life behind bars and vowed that she will never commit a crime in her lifetime again. "First I stayed in a room called a cell where we slept on bunk beds. Then we were moved to a dormitory. There were about 80 of us sleeping on the floor with our feet meeting in the middle room," says Chikwenje who was convicted of theft in 1996.

    Chikwenje's experience chronicled the rough life faced by inmates in Zimbabwe's prisons. The problems of prisoners range from over crowding, physical and verbal abuse, high risk of contracting disease and the danger of HIV/AIDS infection because of the possibility of homosexual and lesbian activities widely reported in the country's prisons. Although there are no official statistics to prove this, former prisoners say these sexual practices often happen. "Once you are there you can not resist it. It is part of entertainment and we used to enjoy it a lot. First offenders and the youths are more vulnerable to old timers", said Kedah Adams who served at Mazowe prison, after he was convicted for house breaking.

    At some prisons officials deny that homosexuality is rife. "If it happens then it's a criminal activity which we are not aware of. No one has come to us and complained about this practice. Anyone caught doing it will be hauled before the magistrate courts for prosecution," said a prison officer at Masvingo prison and who preferred not give his name.

    Sexual abuse apart, it has been indicated that over-crowding and poor sanitary conditions are reported to have reached unacceptable levels in the country's 40 jails. At the moment the prison population hovers around 20 000 which is about 4 000 more than the normal holding capacity of 16 000. A prison in Gweru, popularly remembered for detaining black political activists during the colonial era, is the most over-populated with 1736 prisoners. Homosexual activities are reported to be rife at the prison. The chief Prison spokesman Frankie Meki confirmed that sexual misconduct among prisoners at the complex existed. "The prison has the highest number of inmates. I confirm that there are reports of sexual abuse at this complex but I cannot give the figures. No research was done to establish the magnitude of the problem," said Meki. Some jails do not have toilets. Prisoners use buckets to relieve themselves subjecting them so diseases like dysentry and other infections. "We could use containers because there was nowhere else to go," complained Chikwenje.

    The Zimbabwe government is spending more than Z$40m annually for the up-keep of prisoners thereby further straining the country's financial resources. The cost of maintaining an inmate average about Z$2,000 per month. Lack of health facilities has accelerated the spread of such diseases like menengitis and tuberculosis in the prisons. At least 12 inmates died of meningitis last year and several others are reported to have died of tuberculosis. Many others suffered from the disease upon discharge.

    The spread of meningitis prompted the Ministry of Health to vaccinate all prisoners at Chikurubi Maximum, Harare Central and Bundura prisons where cases of the disease had gone out of hand. The government has also called for the construction of a proper hospital at Chikurubi prison to ensure that inmates received better treatment.

    Disturbing press reports have revealed that some female and male prisoners did not put on underwear because of limited supplies, a practice, which has been condemned by human rights groups as 'degrading and dehumanising.' "Prisoners do not have sufficient clothing. Most of them put on tattered clothes. They walked with bare foot and sleep on concrete slabs," said Ernest Maigurira president of the Zimbabwe Association for the Crime and Rehabilitation of the Offender (ZACRO). "This is a barbaric action which is against the basic human rights of fair treatment. They should provide them with light underwear if it is for security reasons," said Elizabeth Feltoe, the legal officer of the Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace.

    Food shortages is another problem. Prisoners complained of poor food supplies while others said they were served with one meal per day."It is survival of the fittest. Sometimes we scramble for food. I wonder where the chefs are putting our food rations," said a Bulawayo prisoner,James Jiri. But the Attorney General Patrick Chinamasa brushes aside these complaints. He says:"Prison by its nature is not supposed to be a cosy place. It should not in a way bear resemblance of a hotel otherwise we will be like boarding schools. These places should at least teach offenders that committing a crime can burn their fingers".

    Because of limited food supplies, inmates with money capitalise on their colleagues whom they ask for sexual favours in exchange for food, cigarettes and sometimes drugs mostly marijuana smuggled through dubious means."Sometimes you could trade a piece of bread for soap. Prison life is unbearable but that's the life," said Jack, a jailbird.

    To address the growing prison problem, the government is making effort to reduce the prison population. The Community Service Programme introduced in 1996 has benefited thousands of petty offenders. Convicts sent on community service are assigned to government institutions in need of cheap labour such as schools, hospitals, clinics and colleges. Oliver Chigariro, the Community Service officer says: "The programmes has been successful. Families are kept intact without loss of contact and most communities are benefiting. This also help keep petty offenders away from hard core criminals as is the case when one is sent to jail."

    Besides community service the government has started to introduce the open prison system at Connemara prison in the Midlands province. Under this system prisoners serve their jail terms without rigorous conditions associated with prison life, giving prisoners decent accommodation, food and privacy.

    Offenders would be allowed to have frequent visitors, go to bed at any time they want and are allowed to go to their homes during weekends. However these only apply to those whose prison terms are short, conduct themselves well and those regarded as less dangerous criminals.

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