Saturday, 21 March 2015

Inside Chikurubi’s Friday the 13th Riot

Two more Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison inmates died yesterday due to injuries sustained during the food riot that rocked the correctional facility on Friday.

D Class prisoners Pedzisai Nota (40) and Tatitus Mandikonza (24) died in hospital, a day after their colleague, Denis Aram, met his fate as the riot unfolded.

Nota was serving 27 years for committing a series of armed robberies while Mandikonza would have seen many more days behind bars after his rape, armed robbery and unlawful entry convictions earned him a 45-year sentence.
Two more Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison inmates died yesterday due to injuries sustained during the food riot that rocked the correctional facility on Friday.
Aram – also an armed robber — was serving 29 years behind bars. And while some tied the events at the prison as preternatural, as they occurred on Friday the 13th — a day the superstitious love to hate — investigations by The Sunday Mail show that tensions had been simmering at Chikurubi for over three weeks.

The Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) has been struggling to feed inmates the recommended diet, providing them with just sadza and soup.

Sources revealed that inmates staged an all-night vigil on Valentine’s Day demanding that President Mugabe be told of their situation, or for ZPCS Commissioner-General, Major-General (Retired) Paradzai Zimondi, to address them.

When Deputy Comm-Gen Agrey Machingauta promised an improved diet with beans and vegetables, things calmed down for a while.

Dep Comm-Gen Machingauta told this reporter weeks before the riot: “We are only getting US$300 000 from Treasury monthly, yet our institution needs at least US$1,5 million to sustain operations and that includes food and fuel procurement.

“Yes, the inmates had to be given soup because there had been delays from our suppliers. However, we have already secured a stockpile of beans to give them.”

And then Friday the 13th came.

Prison warders, according to sources, escorted nearly 900 inmates from two different sections to lunch at around noon. Lunch is usually served between 11:30 am and 12:30 pm.

The inmates were split into groups of about 50 and were served sadza with vegetables and a soup.

It is understood three inmates demanded an end to “soup meals”, sparking a wave of dissension across the facility.

And soon the shouting descended into rioting, with inmates hurling plates at officers.

The officers, some of them unarmed, sought refuge in the administration block after inmates – now armed with bricks, chairs, plates and brooms – attacked.

The prisoners were singing and dancing, relishing their momentary control of the prison.

Our sources estimate that all this took place within just 10 minutes.

In the meantime, another group took blankets, tables and chairs, and set them on fire in the courtyard, as three others vandalised the water system and armed themselves with pipes. The trio broke asbestos sheets covering the dining yard and climbed onto the prison’s roof. From there, they accessed a security tower and tried to escape.

Armed officers in adjacent towers shot at them as prisoners on the ground urged the trio to “jump to freedom”. Those locked in their cells shouted to their colleagues to break open doors so that they too could join in the chaos.

About 45 minutes later, tables turned with the arrival of the Harare Fire Brigade and Police Support Unit.

Around eight truckloads of police and prison officers made their way into the complex while outside the walls, 10 armed men on horseback combed the area for possible escapees.

“Among these officers who were in the response team were prison warders who were off-duty but were recalled to help contain the situation,” said a source.

The fire brigade managed to put out the inferno as police fired tear gas and blank rounds, resulting in inmates scampering to cells.

Nomalcy returned after an hour and law enforcement officers conducted a head count that revealed no one had escaped — though Aram had died.

Sources told The Sunday Mail that at least 100 police and prison officers spent the night and yesterday at the prison.

ZPCS spokesperson Chief Superintendent Elizabeth Banda-Karinda said: “We had to use blank bullets to contain the situation. About eight of them (prisoners) were injured, while three prison officers were (hurt). The doctors are assessing the extent of the injuries.

“No one escaped. Unfortunately, one prisoner died. He was caught up in the stampede; he was not shot.

“The situation is calm, but we are still monitoring and investigating to ascertain whether the stampede was part of an escape plan or something else.” Sunday Mail
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