Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Prison riots a political tinderbox

By Gift Phiri

Often associated with seizure of control and violence, prison riots are extreme ways in which inmates voice their grievances against prison administrators and authorities.

Members of the Police Support Unit drive into Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison to quell a food protest by prisoners
Members of the Police Support Unit drive into Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison to quell a food protest by prisoners

Prisoners resort to such measures when they believe that only a defiance or disorder can get their unfair condition noticed by the public and government.

Last week’s riot in one of Zimbabwe’s most secure jails, Chikurubi, that killed three people after hundreds of inmates protested over the poor quality of food must make correction practitioners, principally the Justice minister and Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, sit up and take immediate measures to prevent any such activity from occurring.

This is a dichotomous situation that defies logic. Let’s jog back to June up to October 2007.

The country experienced unprecedented food shortages with empty shelves being the order of the day.

This was when the Zanu PF government was at loggerheads with labour and the business community over inflation-induced price controls.

Reports then were abound that discontent and unrest was also simmering among the various security arms principally the defence and law enforcement agencies of the state over hunger. Ordinary citizens who were caught up in this quagmire could not make ends meet.

But somehow authorities found a way and we survived.

Does anyone remember the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s Basic Commodities Supply Side Intervention (Bacossi) programme? Are we heading there?

History seems to be repeating itself here, except that this time around, the simmering unrest is taking place amidst supermarkets brimming with imported goods which nobody can afford to buy.

Unlike in 2007, our inflation is in the minus bracket which means that the crisis should be easier to manage when you have stable prices.

What does Mnangagwa and Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa have to say about the revolt at Chikurubi?

What the current generation of economic drivers should be asking itself is what are the similarities or differences between now and 2008. And if in 2008 we contained the situation before it became riotous and got out of hand, why can’t we and why aren’t we doing so now?

Is there dearth of leadership in this government?

Just like a single match stick can burn a whole bush, the events at Chikurubi could spark similar riotous behaviour all over the country. And if it starts with the people who are supposed to be in captivity, what about those outside?

If indeed it is true that our uniformed members of society are having problems to make ends meet, to get money for transport, rent, food, airtime, hospital fees and other basics, then we could be in for a torrid time.

If these sections of society by any chance are allowed to be unhappy, who will look after a greater population that is unhappy from joblessness, lack of rentals, food, transport and hospital bills?

Currently, we are importing over $2 billion worth of consumables from neighbouring South Africa, essentially exporting jobs! Our shelves are full of imports yet we have prisoners doing nothing except plan how to escape.

Why should prisoners complain about food yet we have prison farms? Prisons should be self-sustaining, growing their own food and feeding the inmates with beef, pork, chicken and vegetables.

As they say, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.

The events at Chikurubi display stunning dearth in leadership.

This is a political tinderbox.

It is time that selfishness and arrogance gives way to greater patriotism and protection of life than appears to be the case now.

We hear that the country may have to import huge quantities of food due to drought and ineptitude on the part of government ministers.

Isn’t this going to make matters worse for us when internally we are focused on trivial matters of hatred and political recklessness when there is such simmering unrest?

It’s time Zimbabweans got together and craft survival solutions. This is no time for experimentation. Dead people have no tales to tell. Daily News