Prison riots: Mnangagwa bid to smear Gumbura rejected by Prision officer

THE saga surrounding the attempted jailbreak at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison two months ago took a new twist yesterday with the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) saying the incident was politically motivated.

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BY VENERANDA LANGA

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ZPCS deputy commissioner-general (audit and inspectorate) Agrey Machingauta told Parliament that most notorious criminals in the “D” class section had outside influence.

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However, Machingauta did not name the political party that influenced the riots and attempted jailbreak that rocked the prison complex on March 13.

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His evidence contradicted Vice-President and Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had earlier claimed that the riots were incited by jailed rapist pastor Robert Martin Gumbura.

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Machingauta told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs, the attempted prison break was meant to tarnish the image of the country at a time when President Robert Mugabe was on a State visit to Japan.

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“The disturbances were due to influence by outside forces, had political motives — and the real motive was to ensure the dangerous inmates escaped from prison to shame the Zimbabwe Prison Services and the nation at large at a time Mugabe had visited Japan and to embarrass him,” Machingauta said.

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“It was a factor they wanted to cover up with the issue of food shortages because in 2007 and 2008 we lost lives due to hunger in prisons, but we did not experience a riotous situation.”

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Machingauta said the prison break plan was so well orchestrated to the extent that a woman who was being sent by the alleged political forces to plan the escape with “D” class section prisoners would enter as a visitor and then plan with the chairperson of a committee that had been set up by the prisoners to plan the riots.

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“During the riots the prisoners attacked prison officers with all sorts of weapons, and one inmate grabbed the cellphone of an injured officer and phoned NewsDay informing them that Chikurubi was burning and urging them to alert the world that their lives were in danger,” he said.

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Asked how the prisoners had the telephone numbers of NewsDay, Machingauta told the committee that newspapers were allowed in prison adding they probably had got the publication’s phone number from an old newspaper.

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“We urge that prisoners be visited by relatives regularly, and so that is how outside communication was being smuggled into prison through visitors,” he claimed. “We actually have names of the outsiders who came to give the information.

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“Within the prisoners they had formed committees with a chairman and this lady would come as an ordinary visitor to see the chairman and pass information which came from the outsiders organising it.”

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The weapons that the prisoners used were broken water pipes, electrical fittings and broken wood from prison furniture, causing damage estimated at $200 000.

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The riots involved 2 293 prisoners at Chikurubi out of 17 000 inmates in the country’s 46 prisons, and they were said to have started in the “D” section which houses notorious prisoners serving sentences ranging from 10 to 100 years for rape, armed robbery, murder and others.

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Machingauta said during the clashes and when the ZPCS had failed to contain the situation they sought reinforcements from the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the army and Central Intelligence Organisation.

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Four prisoners are said to have died during the fracas — one due to gunshots and three during the stampede after they had noticed the guns actually had bullets.

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Those who died were named as Denis Haram who was serving a 29-year jail term for possession of fire arms, Pedzisayi Nota Zure serving a 27-year jail sentence also for firearms, Titus Mandikonza serving a 45-year jail term for armed robbery and rape, and Nicholas Bvenera serving 13 years for rape.

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Machingauta said security at Chikurubi was now exposed and called upon Treasury to expedite provision of funding for closed circuit television and metal detectors.

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The prisoners were said to have torn through the roof using their improvised weapons as it had very poor architecture.

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Machingauta said they were now awaiting delivery of diamond mesh wire to completely seal off the weak points, adding they had intelligence about the attempted jail break before it happened.

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“Intelligence sister forces had actually gathered information advising us that the inmates were actually planning disturbances with outsiders in efforts to escape on Friday 13th March,” he said. – NewsDay