Members of the Police Support Unit drive into Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison to quell a food protest by prisoners yesterday afternoon

Members of the Police Support Unit drive into Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison to quell a food protest by prisoners yesterday afternoon. (pictures by John Manzongo)

Freeman Razemba Crime Reporter—
ONE prisoner was killed, while 11 others — eight inmates and three prison guards —were seriously injured when 900 prisoners ran amok at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison yesterday afternoon, protesting against poor food quality. The inmates torched blankets and damaged property in the melee that lasted for more than three hours.

Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) sources said the riot started around noon.

When The Herald crew arrived at the prison, hundreds of armed and unarmed Support Unit officers and other security agents, had been called in to control the situation.

Initial reports had indicated that five prisoners had disarmed guards and escaped.

The fire brigade was called in to put out the fire.

So tense was the situation that most visitors were not allowed in.

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Gunshots could be heard from outside as security agents moved in to contain the situation.

Witnesses said the prisoners climbed towers, saying they were prepared to die.

ZPCS spokesperson Chief Superintendent Elizabeth Banda-Karinda yesterday said investigations were in progress.

“The inmates had been released to have their lunch, unfortunately they protested the type of relish they had been given — vegetables, which they didn’t want.

“We don’t know what they really wanted. When we were trying to find out exactly who wanted to eat and who didn’t, there was stampede all over the place. So we are still investigating to ascertain if the stampede was targeted towards escaping or if it was something else,” she said.

“We will let you know more once the investigations have been completed. No one escaped. About eight of them (prisoners) were injured, while three prison officers were maimed. The doctors are assessing the extent of the injuries,” she said.

She said seven of the prisoners were referred to Government hospitals for treatment, while the other one was being monitored at prison hospital.

“Unfortunately, one prisoner died. He was caught up in the stampede and he wasn’t shot,” Chief Supt Banda-Karinda said.

She said the prison guards who were injured were in a stable condition and receiving treatment.

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Chief Supt Banda-Karinda said warning shots were fired using blank ammunition as officers tried to control the inmates.

“The situation is calm, but we are still monitoring the situation. There are 4 663 prisoners. But of the two concerned areas, one has 445 and the other has 443 prisoners and those are the areas that were involved in the riot.

“At maximum security prison, we have dangerous prisoners – those that have been convicted of murder and rape and so on and those that have long sentence need maximum security. We have assistance from Support Unit and our friendly forces are all in to assist and we are still looking at how best we can contain the situation for the night as we carry out investigations,” she said.

Chief Supt Banda-Karinda said they had adequate food to feed the prisoners, but could not disclose how blankets were to be sourced.

Since 2013, there had been reports that ZPCS had been failing to feed the estimated 17 000 inmates in the country’s 42 correctional facilities at the prescribed standard dietary scale.

The service was also struggling to transport remand prison inmates to court as it continued to grapple with fuel challenges.

Reports indicated that the inmates were being fed porridge without sugar, bread and tea for breakfast.

They were also being served sadza and spinach for a combined lunch and supper.

Health experts said such a diet would lead to malnutrition and eventually health complications.

Latest findings show that a large number of the inmates were suffering from scurvy and pellegra among other diseases.

ZPCS said feeding the inmates was a daunting task and budgetary constraints had resulted in the prisoners not getting the prescribed standard dietary scale as prescribed in Statutory Instrument 96 of 2012.

However, she could not disclose what constituted the diet.

Speaking before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs last year, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Secretary Mrs Virginia Mabhiza, said the ministry required $21 million annually to feed inmates.