Fourty nine death row inmates in Zimbabwe’s jails live in perpetual fear as they have no clue when the executioner will show-up.
All 49 of them have been sentenced to die by hanging, but none of them know their execution date as Zimbabwe Prison Service, the southern African country’s jailers is battling to attract suitable candidates to fill the critical post.
This has forced one inmate to stay on death row for the past 13 years following his conviction on a murder charge but the majority have been on death row for at least four years.
The shocking statistics where provided by the jailers Wednesday to Senate Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights.
Harare Central Prison officer-in-charge Chief Superintendent Norbert Chomurenga told the Senate Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights that the notorious jail currently holds more than 1 200 inmates.
“There are 1 221 inmates, four are juveniles, 426 are B class, 745 are C class, one is D class and 49 are prisoners under sentence of death,” Chomurenga told the committee.
In Zimbabwe prisoners are classified according to the danger they pose with those in B class being the least dangerous. However, Chomurenga did not provided a breakdown of males and females on death row.
Lethal injections are not used in Zimbabwe.
The latest addition was just last week. Trust Muganhu was handed a death sentence for murdering a businesswoman in 2008.
Removal of death penalty
Prisoners had a rare opportunity to voice their concerns Wednesday and lobbied for the removal of the death penalty from the country’s statute books.
Said one inmate, “I spend 23 hours of the day confined in our cells and every time I hear the doors being unlocked, I just think they have come to take me.
“While we know that we committed crimes, the torture we go through is unbearable, please can you lobby for the abolishment of the death sentence,”
The trauma affecting the inmates is spilling over to prison guard, inmates said.
“The mental trauma does not only affect us, even the guards who protect us every day because they will witness our death while they have been staying with us for all these years,” said the inmate.
The most recent executions date back to a decade ago when notorious robbers, Edgar Masendeke and Stephen Chidhumo who committed various crimes including murder and escaping from lawful custody at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison were put to sleep.
Most death row inmates have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment without parole. And according to human-rights activists, death-row inmates are housed in solitary confinement and may not talk to other prisoners.
Their contact to the outside world is limited to occasional, supervised visits with their closest relatives, the activists said.