Zim prison set alight by inmates ‘unhappy with meals’

The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) TV said on its late evening news bulletin on Friday that prison guards “were forced to use firearms to control the situation” at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison on the outskirts of the Zimbabwean capital.

The Herald newspaper said in an online update that “nearly 900” prisoners were involved in the riot, which began as a demonstration for better food.

“One prisoner died during the riot, which lasted for more than three hours with the prisoners burning blankets and destroying window panes at the maximum [security] prison,” said the Herald.

The prisoner who died was not shot but crushed in a stampede, the Herald said Saturday. “Unfortunately one prisoner died. He was caught up in the stampede and he wasn’t shot,” Elizabeth Banda-Karinda, a spokesperson for the state prison services told the paper.

Three prison warders were understood to have been injured by asbestos flung at them by inmates.

On Saturday reports said that eleven people, eight of them prisoners, are now known to have been seriously injured. There are reports of other less serious injuries.

Jail break
A group of five inmates is reported to have started the riot by burning their blankets. The fire brigade was called in to put out the fire, which had spread to a staircase. Prison officers reportedly combed the prison in the wake of the blaze. According to unconfirmed reports the fire was part of an attempted jail-break. 

Sources reportedly said there had been a number of arrests. It was believed that none of the prisoners escaped from the jail. Prison officers said they heard some of the inmates urging their colleagues not to eat their meal, protesting that the relish was not good enough, ZBC reported.

Earlier, ZBC’s acting editor-in-chief Chris Chivinge said the rioting was put down “without much incident”. Investigations are still underway.

Reports earlier also said that police were forced to open fire on the prisoners, although the prison spokesperson claimed the ammunition used was blank. Banda-Karinda said the prisoners did not like the vegetables they were being served along with their sadza porridge, according to the Herald.

The paper, seen as the voice of President Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government, said a “large number” of inmates were suffering from scurvy and pellagra, both linked to bad diet. 

Some prisoners at Chikurubi tried to go on a hunger strike two weeks ago over the lack of food. The seriously injured prisoners are being treated in hospital. A commentator calling himself Zvakaoma wrote online: “They have the full right to protest. There are no blankets, no water and nothing at all.” – Sapa

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