ABOUT 900 Chikurubi Maximum Prison inmates, fed up with several weeks of plain sadza and Royco soup, rioted Friday afternoon, protesting the poor quality of food and ill-treatment by prison staff.
One prisoner was killed while eight others and three prison guards were injured as the inmates set fire to as section of the facility in disturbances than lasted more than three hours.
Hundreds of armed and unarmed ZRP Support Unit officers and other security agents rushed to the facility to try and help contain the trouble.
The badly underfunded Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) has been struggling to feed inmates at the country’s overcrowded jails. Often, trials are called off because the service does not have fuel to transport prisoners to the courts.
There were reports two weeks ago about a hunger strike that inmates had embarked on citing poor meals.
“Prisoners have been complaining about the quality of food for a long time, but their concerns were not being addressed.
“Today (yesterday) at around lunch they then demonstrated and this is when the chaos started,” a prison official told journalists.
Sources said the prisoners burnt office furniture and set fire to grounds at the sprawling facility. Others climbed on tower lights daring guards to shoot them dead saying they were prepared to die.
Some of the prisoners disarmed guards and escaped. Gunshots could be heard from outside as security agents moved in to contain the situation.
ZPCS spokesperson Chief Superintendent Elizabeth Banda-Karinda said the protest kicked off as the inmates were released for lunch.
“The inmates had been released to have their lunch, unfortunately they protested the type of relish they had been given — vegetables, which they didn’t want,” she said.
“We don’t know what they really wanted. When we were trying to find out exactly who wanted to eat and who didn’t, there was stampede all over the place.
“So we are still investigating to ascertain if the stampede was targeted towards escaping or if it was something else.”
She added: “We will let you (the media) know more once the investigations have been completed.
“No one escaped. About eight of them (prisoners) were injured, while three prison officers were maimed. The doctors are assessing the extent of the injuries.
“Unfortunately, one prisoner died. He was caught up in the stampede and he wasn’t shot.”
Calm has since returned to the facility with officials saying investigations were now underway.
“The situation is calm, but we are still monitoring the situation,” said Banda-Karinda.
“There are 4 663 prisoners. But of the two concerned areas, one has 445 and the other has 443 prisoners and those are the areas that were involved in the riot.
“At maximum security prison, we have dangerous prisoners – those that have been convicted of murder and rape and so on and those that have long sentence need maximum security.
“We have assistance from Support Unit and our friendly forces are all in to assist and we are still looking at how best we can contain the situation for the night as we carry out investigations.”
Over the last few years the prison service has reportedly been struggling to feed the estimated 17 000 inmates in the country’s 42 correctional facilities.