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April 2, 2009
“Hell Hole” film exposes appalling state of Zimbabwe’s jails

A documentary portraying miserable and unhygienic conditions in Zimbabwe’s jails has prompted the Zimbabwean government to request aid to manage their prison system.

The film, “Hell Hole,” was released by South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and shows starving and malnourished prisoners. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamas recently told parliament that “economic hardships are hitting hardest inside prisons.”

Watch excerpts from the documentary from the Associated Press’ YouTube page:

Blogger Denford Magora in Harare describes the Chikurubi Prison:

The prison is notorious for its conditions, made worse now by the shortage of water, food and medication. The prison hospital, where attempts to treat them have been made before, lacks even the most basic medical facilities and supplies. It apparently does not even have bandages.

[…]Zimbabwe’s prisons are known for inflicting a punishment known as kafiramberi on their inmates. The word, loosely translated, means “Die Forward”. This is a reference to the fact that well-known prisoners and those considered “dangerous” are only ever released when they are almost dead and all invariably die within weeks or a couple of months of being released.

A blogger at “This is Zimbabwe” wrote of prison conditions in 2004:

Archaeologists often say that the most telling discoveries about the past are made in sifting through the contents of the rubbish bins of ancient civilizations. With a macabre twist, the same might be said of what Zimbabwe’s mortuaries reveal today – of the sad state of society, and more particularly of the country’s prisons.

Take the Mpilo mortuary in Bulawayo for example. Those unfortunate enough to have cause to visit the place report that bodies are piled up like so much firewood. The refrigeration system having failed some time ago there is no alternative, and the resulting stench is appalling. A recent visitor to the mortuary counted in excess of fifteen bodies piled up on the floor. Judging by the identical grey blankets in which they were wrapped they were all from the prisons. A few bodies were not in fact covered at all. They lay stark naked, without a shred of dignity or decency in death. A small boy, a green bomber graduate, now working as a mortuary attendant, explained that the prisons were giving them a real problem in the number of bodies delivered which were unclaimed.

And of the situation now?

Five years on, the problem persists: a mass burial was held in Bulawayo in February this year in an effort to empty Mpilo’s mortuary, which is still unrefrigerated and still struggling to cope with the large number of dead bodies.

Incidentally, despite the new transitional government,  the repressive media environment still hasn’t been satisfactorily addressed – thank god for undercover footage that gets the truth out!

Joe Trippi, an American Democratic political consultant, blogs about Roy Bennett, the Mugabe opponent who was imprisoned:

I met Roy Bennett in 2008. I was in Africa trying to help rid Zimbabwe of Robert Mugabe. I saw first hand the risk that Roy and others were taking to promote, through democratic means, new leadership and real change in Zimbabwe […]

I was receiving updates on Roy throughout his imprisonment that began on February 13th. I knew that a prisoner died in Roy’s cell and that the body remained in the cell for days before it was removed. A week or so later I learned that another prisoner had died in the cell next to Roy’s and that the body was left in the cell for days again. And I knew that food was scarce. […] Roy Bennett’s imprisonment has ended. Now it is time tell our friends about Zimbabwe, and to urge them to tell their friends. The press and governments will get the message and the pressure will increase on Mugabe and his regime.

The “What About Africa” blog argues that the international community shares the blame for conditions in Zimbabwe:

The [documentary] seemed to be a snub on Zimbabwe, but how can we say ‘how terrible’ something is, when we have taken away all help from a country?  The world turned it’s back on Zimbabwe and in so doing, we turned our backs on the people – not the government.  Mugabe is still living in his mansion with plenty to eat and throwing lavish birthday parties for himself.  His people are the ones suffering but we implement sanctions that only hurt its’ citizens.

Zimbabwe’s prisons also made headlines when the country held the two-year-old son of imprisoned activists in jail for 76 days late last year. Global Voices provided a roundup of blogger reactions.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Sokwanele – Zimbabwe under a Creative Commons license.

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1 comment


The president of Zinbabwe should be locked up and put in that same prison. He is and old fool who only looks after his cronies. The world court should put him on it’s list of wanted criminals.

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