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Robber’s harrowing 14-year jail stint

Convicted armed robber Elijah Vumbunu, 40, had only served 14 years of his 40-year jail term when the gods smiled on him in April this year. Vumbunu walked out of the High Court smiling, after he was granted $50 bail pending appeal against the sentence and conviction he was given by the Mutare Regional Court way back in 2005.

File picture of prisoners at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison
File picture of prisoners at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison

Finally, he will get to see his daughter he had left aged only 10 months when the long arm of the law caught up with him, so he said to himself.

After the bail ruling was made, his relatives paid the $50 bail money but had to wait for other inmates’ cases to be dealt with before returning to Chikurubi Maximum Prison where Vumbunu would be cleared and released.

A pair of trousers, shirt and shoes that he had booked with the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services when he was caged, were the only items that had not changed in his life since conviction in 2005.

And he wore them on his way out.

“I had one thing on my mind, my daughter; I longed to meet her. I imagined what she had grown into, how and if she would welcome me. I could not even think of the first thing that I was going to say to her,” Vumbunu said.

“It had been communicated to me that my wife had moved on and it hurt but I just accepted that I had been away for 14 years – she could not have waited that long. After all, she was only 18 years when I left her.”

Vumbunu and his gang had stormed Mutare Parts in September 2003 and got away with Zimbabwe and United States dollars, collectively valued at $40 million.

While serving time, Vumbunu was also embroiled in masterminding a prison break at Chikurubi in 2015.

“February 2, 2005 changed my life for the worst, I was hurt, felt suicidal because I did not think that I would survive jail time because at that time things were tough and at prison we would get only one meal per day,” Vumbunu narrated.

“Normally, when an inmate dies, cells are not opened at prisons until the body has been ferried away but during that period leading to 2008 a person would die sitting next to you because of hunger. We got used to it and sometimes bodies would take a whole day to be collected because of the rate at which people were dying”.

At Chikurubi Maximum Prison, Vumbunu was confined to the C Hall, which houses rapists, murderers and armed robbers — people convicted of third schedule offences.

Vumbunu says he escaped being bullied because when he arrived there he had groceries and bricks of cigarettes that he would trade for favours.

According to him, homosexuality is quite rife.

“We were four newcomers but luckily for us we had resources to ensure our security so we did not experience much harm. The holding capacity of the cell I was confined to was 25 but we were about 48 of us crammed in that room.

“When people say you get space to sleep which is equivalent to 30cm they would not be joking, that is the reality and we got used to it.

“Homosexuality is there, people who do it are actually known and they make sure that it is not known. Usually people who do not have resources end up giving in for them to survive in prison.

“…it is so sad that some inmates actually died due to illnesses that they would have acquired consequent to that.”

He said access to health facilities was limited let alone seeing the doctor who visited the institution once in a blue moon and attended only to the most critical cases.

Vumbunu regrets the time he lost while serving jail time and that two of his siblings passed on in 2009 and 2014 and never got a chance to say goodbye.

The Johane Masowe yeSaturday devotee said he was yet to visit his church authorities and seek to be welcomed back.

“It was hard for me, I would just grieve in prison with no one to comfort me but there was nothing I could do about it. I lost all my property, a house I had in Nkulumane, Bulawayo, cars and other valuables that were wasted away as I served jail time.”

Vumbunu was supposed to be out in 2026 after completing his 40-year term.

“It is not worth it committing crime and ending up in jail. Prison life is not cheap it is easy for a person to die and worse there are no resources to sustain a dignified living.” – DailyNews