Scenes of jubilation engulfed Harare Central Prison at the weekend as
relatives reunited with their loved ones freed from jail after serving terms of incarceration. Prison authorities began releasing hordes of inmates who are beneficiaries of a recent order of clemency extended to 2 500 convicts
by President Robert Mugabe.
While the total number of beneficiaries of the presidential amnesty was first reported in the state media as 1 544, Zimbabwe Prison Service public relations officer, Elizabeth Banda, told journalists that the actual number of those to be freed was 2 513.
Among those granted amnesty were all women prisoners, inmates serving
three-year terms who had completed a quarter of their sentence, as well as those in open prisons and life inmates who had served 20 or more years. The amnesty excluded prisoners jailed for serious crimes including murder, rape and vehicle hijacking.
Elated relatives said they had been living in fear of losing their loved ones to hunger and disease in Zimbabwe’s notorious jails. Close to 1 000 prisoners are reported to have died in Zimbabwe’s jails between January and June this year.
One former inmate Alex Chiro (43) vowed to keep of jail “for a long time as it was all hell inside”. “Nights before the release l vowed not to come back again. Spending 12 years here was all hell” He was in jail for a spare of armed robbery. Some claimed to have “been born again”
Amid reports of terror, however, Alex Chiro thanked President Mugabe for taking good care of them. “I say thank you very much to the President Robert Gabriel Mugabe,” one prisoner said. “I say thank you very much for the clemency. He claimed he had been better educated than most free people.
The amnesty is an attempt by the current inclusive government to ease
congestion in Zimbabwe’s 42 jails. The jails are now viewed as death camps because of their poor sanitary conditions and a perennial shortage of food and medical drugs.
The country’s prisons did not survive the deadly cholera epidemic which broke out mid-last year killing 4 000 and leaving more than 80 000 hospitalised. The epidemic was only contained after the intervention of humanitarian aid groups which brought medicine and other forms of assistance that helped suppress the continued spread of the dreaded disease.