By Raymond Jaravaza and Bubelo Moyo
The eerie feeling one gets the moment they step into the Khami Prison Complex with its imposing high walls is testimony that the place is not for the faint-hearted.
Situated on the outskirts of Bulawayo – the giant maximum-security prison that houses sentenced inmates or those awaiting trial – is the country’s second largest penitentiary and home to thousands of prisoners, mental patients, males and females on remand.
It’s a hot Saturday afternoon and the Saturday Leisure crew, in the company of ex-football stars, is subjected to the usual security protocol that any other visitor goes through at the prison.
Like any security area, identification documents are requested, body searches for anything that is deemed illegal to be in the prison complex are conducted by friendly prison officers who effortlessly go about their job while sharing a joke or two with one another.
Suddenly, yellow, grey, green, khaki, white and red begin to resemble something different. These are colours for prison garb differentiating those who have been convicted from those on remand or detained mental patients.
Females on remand wear green while men in the same category are clothed in khaki; convicted females are dressed in yellow while the males wear white whereas detained mental patients are clad in grey, both male and female.
We make our way to the prison grounds where a group of prisoners clad in white shorts and shirts – of course in the company of prison officers – await to play a football match against the Bulawayo Football Legends – a team made up of former stars who played for Premier Soccer League clubs in their heydays.
The prisoners’ football team goes by the name Khami Metropolitan Football Club and they are ready to rub shoulders with famous ex-footballers, some whom they know by name or reputation.
For the prisoners, the result is of no importance. Just the feeling of rubbing shoulders with ex-footballers will remain etched in their hearts for the longest time to come.
They lost the match 1-3.
“It was such an honour playing against legends such as Ronald Sibanda and it shows that society has not turned their backs on us even if we committed crimes and ended up here.
“Being in prison is not easy, but when we interact with people from outside, we remain hopeful that there’s life after we’re released,” Sandile Makhalima says.
Sibanda, the man Makhalima seems to idolise, is a former Amazulu, Dynamos and the senior national team midfielder.
Although Makhalima is reluctant to share with Saturday Leisure what crime he committed, the 24-year-old still has three years left before he is a free man.
“At my age, I still have a lot to look forward to in life and despite the mistakes that I made, I want to be a better man and contribute positively to society. I used to play for the Highlanders juniors before I was arrested and if it wasn’t for crime, I believe I would be playing for a Premiership club,” he adds.
Voted man-of-the-match by his teammates and opponents at the end of the game, Descent Masuku is anxious of what lies ahead when he is released next year in February.
“Growing up in Mzilikazi, I played soccer and just a few days before I was supposed to go for trials with the Highlanders Under-18 team, I was arrested for robbery and ended up here.
“It’s a mistake that I’ll live with for the rest of my life, but I have to man up and try to lead a crime free life when I’m released in February next year,” the player tells Saturday Leisure.
For a team that is coached by a fellow inmate Norbert Amini, the Khami Metropolitan Football Club players are by all means a group of inmates that have made peace with their incarceration and are trying hard to make amends with the society that they wronged.
“Being prisoners, we have learnt from our mistakes and we’re trying to show society that we can be better people, here in prison and when we are eventually released.
“Our major challenge as a team is that we don’t have enough soccer boots and we’d really appreciate it if a sponsor could assist us,” said Amini.
The Bulawayo Football Legends use such matches to prove the power of football in uniting communities and as part of its social responsibility initiatives, they donated foodstuffs and second-hand clothes to the prisoners.
Club secretary, Herbert Dick, a former Amazulu and Warriors defender, says the team always looks forward to playing against the inmates and interacting with them after the games.
“We try and organise at least two games a year with these guys and donate the little resources that we mobilise. These guys are already serving their sentences for the mistakes they made and it’s not helpful to turn our backs on them,” said Dick.
The Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) emphasized that rehabilitation of prisoners is an integral part of making sure that they do not commit crimes again once released.
Rehabilitation is defined as the process of re-educating and retraining those who commit crime. Recently, ZPCS announced that as part of rehabilitation processes, female prisoners will be allowed home visits under new prison reforms.
According to the correctional services boss, Commissioner-General Paradzai Zimondi, they are also building open prisons for females in all provinces, starting with Mutare in Manicaland and Marondera in Mashonaland East as part of a new emphasis on removing hard walls.
“The open prison system is more conducive for facilitating inmates’ rehabilitation and successful reintegration given that it is at most, serving as a halfway home.
In this regard, inmates go on home leave while serving their prison terms thereby ensuring that family relations and ties are kept open and intact.
“As inmates go on home leave, they interact and stay with their families thus preparing for their release.
“Upon release, they will not be new persons as the re-integration process would have commenced while one would be serving his/her prison term,” he told the media recently. The Chronicle