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Zimbabwe prison called 'death camp'
TV images of sick and starving inmates highlight appalling conditions in country's jails.
Last Modified: 02 Apr 2009 11:52 GMT
Inmates at the Beitbridge jail are said to receive one meal a day from the prison service

Images have been released of Zimbabwean prisoners who are said to be starving and dying of disease, due to meagre supplies and appalling conditions.

Male prisoners are seen to be emaciated and too weak to stand in the documentary Hell Hole, shown by the South African Broadcasting Association (SABC) on Tuesday.

Inmates covertly took the footage after being instructed by Godknows Nare, an SABC producer, over a four-month period.

Many people in the jail at Beitbridge, close to the South African border, are ravaged by diseases such as tuberculosis, and some have lost control of their bodily functions.

Zimbabwe is undergoing an humanitarian crisis, with a dearth of food for the majority of the country's population, a collapsed economy and uncontrolled inflation.

'Dire conditions'

A new unity government was sworn in in December but the prison service remains low on their list of the priorities.

In video


Secretly filmed footage from inside a Zimbabwean prison

"The conditions of the prisons of Zimbabwe are dire. We have a desperate situation which is characterised by deaths due to malnutrition and complications also arising from malnutrition mainly," Jesse Majoma, the deputy justice minister for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), formerly the main opposition party which is now part of the unity government.

"The Zimbabwe prison service is not present in any capacity to meet the needs of the prisoners that are kept by this service."

Zimbabwe's prisoner rehabilitation charity says that 20 inmates a day are dying in the country's 55 jails.

First such footage

Former prisoners and human-rights groups have spoken of the poor conditions in Zimbabwe's prisons but this is the first such footage to be released, which Nare, the SABC producer, hopes will engender assistance.

"Just hearsay, without visual proof, is not enough to change people's minds," he said.

Some of the prisoners are shown unable to bring food to their mouths and with bones prominent underneath the skin in the footage.

They have thin mattresses and blankets in their cells as their only furniture.

Nare said that the prisoners are given one bowl of maize meal daily, which has little if any nutritional value. Prisoners survive on food provided by relatives.

Minister's experience

Roy Bennett, the deputy agriculture minister-designate from the MDC, who spent a month in jail on sabotage charges before being released last month, called his experience harrowing.

"Those pictures [shown by SABC] are real, if not rather conservative pictures. The conditions in the prison I was in in Mutare were far worse images than that," he said.

"There are images of people in what used to be called penal blocks, where if you misbehave within the prison system you are put into that block as an individual. And there are five people in those.

"At any one stage there is at least one person there who is unable to move around. He is on a drip during the day, the drip is taken off during the night because they are locked up. And basically they are dying."

Political crisis

Zimbabwe has been in a state of political crisis since March 2008, when disputed parliamentary and presidential elections sparked violence.

The MDC was victorious in the parliamentary poll but in a run-off presidential poll a few months later, President Robert Mugabe, who heads the Zanu-PF party, won unchallenged.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, had pulled out due to cited fear of violence against himself and MDC supporters.

The two parties finalised the power-sharing government in December after months of turmoil. 

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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