Tuesday 16 January 2024


The “horrible” prison food served in Zimbabwe’s jails has caused health problems for prisoners, with some developing pellagra due to dietary deficiencies, according to Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of Transform Zimbabwe.

The opposition leader was sentenced to 48 months in prison last year on April 28 for allegedly leading protests against government corruption, but he was acquitted on December 11, 2022, after spending eight months in prison.

Ngarivhume, who was jailed at Harare Central, stated some of the prisoners who develop running stomachs after eating bad food are forced to relieve themselves on the cell floors because they would already be locked up for the night.

On This Morning on Asakhe, an X space hosted by CITE on Tuesday, Ngarivhume claimed several prisoners have experienced illnesses related to the bad food served in jail.

“The conditions in prison are as bad as they come. There has never been improvement. I was in prison at Chikurubi (for a previous conviction) and nothing has changed from that time, if anything, conditions have deteriorated,” he said.

The opposition leader narrated how jail meals come “without cooking oil and very little salt.”

“They boil what is available, if it’s cabbage, usually the most frequent and common meal they prepare, they boil it. They add little salt, nothing else, no tomatoes, nothing to add on to the flavour. At the end of day prisoners suffer from pellagra,” Ngarivhume claimed.

“Pellagra comes as a deficiency of protein and fat and your body in trying to correct that situation eats on your skin, and huge chunks of your skin peel off.”

Ngarivhume claimed to have seen 25 prisoners with pellagra.

“It was horrible. I had to put about five or seven of them on my own home meals,” he said, adding that prison officials picked cabbage to feed to prisoners even though it would have been sprayed for ticks     

“When you spray, you have to wait for 14 days or so before picking but they never wait. They will be under pressure so they prepare cabbage and cook before the expiry of 14 days. Most prisoners get serious stomach upsets.”

According to the opposition leader, prisoners are locked up for 17 hours a day, from 3pm. to 8 am, so if some develop running stomachs and do not have access to the toilet, they are forced to relieve themselves in that cell.

“There will be 70 of you in that room, with people messing the floors and you have to stand that until the following day. The following day comes with no urgency and no action is taken. Because the cabbage is not good, people continue getting stomach upsets and you have the same problem. Until you decide not to take the cabbage during the night and only take it in the morning when they serve so that you have the stomach upset during the day,” Ngarivhume said.

“To run a prison in such a manner is unbelievable. It’s so dehumanising and inhumane. We went through that.”

Ngarivhume also mentioned that prison space was limited.

“I own an average house in a medium density, the size of the bedroom I occupy with my wife, in prison that space will be for 40 of us. You go through humiliation everyday,” he said.

“Prison hospitals also have no medication and in most cases I had to buy medication for fellow prisoners.”

Ngarivhum said he met other political prisoners, illustrating that “the regime was persecuting political opponents exactly like me.”

“I met six comrades from Mthwakazi (Republic Party). We discussed a lot and this shows the frivolous charges and that in this day and era, the regime still persecutes people,” said the opposition leader.

“It’s all clear there are magistrate and justices found in the captured courts. You would not have committed crime yet are subjected to those conditions. It’s horrible even if you have committed a crime, you have rights in terms of having (better) conditions.”

Meanwhile, Ngarivhume said his party was sending representatives to hand over food parcels to prisoners.

“These representatives are going for the comrades we left in prison and they are going to give them food, today and tomorrow. Some people will be going to deliver food at Harare Central and the next two days, they will go to Chikurubi. These are efforts from wellwishers to support prisoners and I appreciate,” he said.

One X space participant acknowledged that prison conditions were deplorable, having witnessed them while on prison ministry crusades.

“While I was still in Zimbabwe, we used to do prison ministry. If you look at the majority of our prisons, they were built pre-independence. They were not built to accommodate for the numbers now and that puts pressure,” said Edward Njabulo.

“The country must come up with policies, maybe to rebuild, extend or expand especially Khami Prison which was built before Ian Smith came.” CITE


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