Robert Mugabe frees 2,500 prisoners under amnesty

HARARE,- Two of Zimbabwe's longest-serving prisoners, who had been behind bars since the 1980s, on Friday tasted freedom after nearly three decades behind bars following the recent Presidential Amnesty.

A total of 2,513 inmates from prisons across the country strolled out of the gates vowing never to return, though past experiences of Presidential pardons show quite a good number of them will soon be "guests of the State" again.

The two long-serving inmates, Christopher Pio Munyoro (64) and Lovemore Bvuno (63), were both sentenced to life imprisonment after they were convicted of murder in 1984 and 1985 respectively.

Munyoro was jailed after fatally assaulting his boss, a Mr Woods, at Zimasco in Kwekwe following an argument over a minimum wage.

Bvuno, on the other hand, was locked up in 1985 for the fatal shooting of his wife’s boyfriend in Masvingo.

Being veterans of Harare Central Prison for all these years, it was perhaps only fitting that they were the first inmates from that correctional facility to taste their freedom yesterday morning.

Their fellow beneficiaries of the amnesty were later released in batches of between 30 and 55.

The two narrated their stories to The Herald, saying when they were jailed, their wives abandoned the children and family homes.

The spouses’ whereabouts, they said ruefully, were unknown. Munyoro’s three children are all dead while Bvuno said he only knew that one of his three sons was in Swaziland while the other children, including a daughter, are "somewhere out there".

In early 1984 Munyoro, who was employed as a crane operator at Zimasco, had an altercation with a Mr Woods over his wages. The argument degenerated into a fight during which Munyoro grabbed a spanner and struck Mr Woods once on the head. Mr Woods died on the spot and Munyoro was arrested.

Sometime in 1985, Bvuno, then a soldier based in Masvingo, went home armed with an AK-47 rifle and knocked on the door, but no one answered.

"My wife could not open the door because she was with another man," Bvuno said.

He said he kicked the door in a bid to break it, and sensing danger, his wife opened it. "I saw the boyfriend kneeling on top of my bed. This made me angry and I fired a shot, which hit him once in the chest and he died on the spot," he said.

The two prison veterans thanked President Robert Mugabe for the amnesty and gave assurances that they would not be involved in any criminal activities again.

Munyoro was taken home by his younger brother, Isaiah, while Bvuno said he had nowhere to go.

The duo said they would look for work since they had learnt new skills in prison.

Acting Zimbabwe Prisons spokesperson Superintendent Elizabeth Banda hoped that the nation would accept all those who had been released.

"These people need assistance so that they can catch up.

 

"On behalf of my fellow inmates, I would like to also thank the President for the clemency. We promise we are going to behave very well. Imprisonment is not the end of the world. It is the beginning of a new life," he said.

Mahaso did not say what he would do as a free man considering the limitations placed on ex-convicts practicing law in the country’s courts.

However, a prison guard who was standing close by as the interview was being conducted quipped: "There are some lawyers who have been jailed but are now running very profitable NGOs."

This was probably in reference to Dr Lovemore Madhuku, who served jail time for embezzling a client’s money but after his release went on to help found the National Constitutional Assembly and has since re-admitted into practice by the Law Society of Zimbabwe.

A 20-member choir formed by the not-so-lucky remaining inmates sang songs as the ex-jail birds were escorted out of the complex.

Many of them wore half-smiles; evidently not sure whether to be happy or to be sad because they had nowhere to go once they walked out of the fortified and barbed-wired concrete walls they have called home for more years than they cared to remember.

Others were told to wait at the prisons main gate so that they could be given passes to enable them to travel on public transport since they had no bus fare.

In years gone by the Zimbabwe Prison Services used to give released inmates a token sum of money, usually enough for bus fare, before they walked out.

This could, however, have been a result of the financial problems facing government departments.

A total of 147 prisoners were released from Harare Central Prison and a further nine will be out in the free world as soon as they undergo medical checks.

The Presidential Amnesty was granted under Section 311 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. 

The order was cited as Clemency Order Number 1 of 2009 and was published in the Government Gazette of August.

Justice and Legal Affairs permanent secretary David Mangota told a press conference recently that President Robert Mugabe should have made the announcement during the Heroes’ holiday but there were delays in the relevant documents reaching him. 

"Due to inadequate financial resources coupled with the unfavorable economic environment, the Zimbabwe Prison Service has faced challenges in fulfilling its set objectives and statutory obligations which include provision of prisoners’ rations, clothing and bedding, toiletries and transport among others," he said.

"As a short term relief option to try and contain some of these challenges seriously and negatively impacting on the effective and efficient administration of prisons, a proposal to have a general amnesty was granted to inmates," he added.

Mangota said all convicted female prisoners and juveniles except those serving specified offences would have the remainder of their sentences remitted.

Specified offences which the amnesty would not cover include murder, rape or any sexual offences, carjacking, armed robbery and stock theft.

Other offences not covered by the amnesty include tampering with apparatus for generating, transmitting, distributing or supplying electricity, any conspiracy, incitement or attempting to commit or being an accessory in any of these offences.

Mangota said all prisoners sentenced to 36 months and below and who have served a quarter of their sentences as well as those with terminal illnesses would also benefit from the amnesty.

"A full remission of sentence has also been granted to all inmates serving terms of imprisonment at open prisons provided they are not serving for specified terms as well as all inmates sentenced to life in prison or long terms of imprisonment on or before May 31 1989 and have served 20 years or more," he said.

Mangota appealed to families of the returning inmates to assist in rehabilitating and reintegrating them into society.

He said the inmates had been prepared to fend for themselves and contribute to economic development of the country through rehabilitation programs provided by the ZPS.

Mangota said measures had been taken to screen pardoned prisoners to avoid releasing dangerous and habitual criminals back into society.

He implored the society, particularly employers, to change their attitudes towards former convicts and provide them an opportunity to prove that they had reformed and could live decent lives.