By Mthulisi Mathuthu
SW Radio Africa
17 February 2014
2,000 prisoners are expected to have walked to freedom by the end of this week, following an amnesty order by President Robert Mugabe.
Mugabe’s order is unlikely to be seen as a gesture of goodwill and empathy, and more of one of necessity. Recently it was reported that about 19,000 prisoners countrywide were facing starvation as food stocks had dropped significantly. Reports said the situation could worsen due to poor funding.
On Monday Zimbabwe Prison Service deputy commissioner Aggrey Huggins Machingauta told journalists that his department was working with the police in indentifying deserving inmates.
A NewsDay report said people who have reached 70 years and above, except those facing life and death sentences, will qualify. Juvenile inmates at an open prison will automatically also qualify for amnesty, including the terminally ill, the report said.
Mugabe’s order states that some prisoners will not be pardoned, including people on death row, habitual criminals, as well as any person serving a sentence imposed by a court martial. Others who will not be pardoned include those jailed for rape, murder, treason, carjacking and armed robbery.
According to the NewsDay, Machingauta denied that prisons were hell and were recording high death rates. But a tour of the Harare Central Prison by the Zimbabwe Independent last week revealed otherwise. The paper quoted inmates saying they were living under ‘fatal unhygienic conditions.’ Some inmates reported witnessing fellow prisoners dying of hunger and lack of treatment.
One prisoner said it is the same whether you get a five year sentence or a death sentence, because the result in both instances is death.