By Itai Muzondo
Recent claims about the embattled former RGM End Time Messages founder clergy, Robert Martin Gumbura by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa who is also the justice minister that he was a ring leader in the recently foiled jailbreak were at first taken by many as Ngwena’s usual humour but as events kept unfolding, Gumbura has found his way back in court.
Gumbura’s resurfacing comparable to the biblical Barrabas,facing charges of attempting to escape from lawful custody,malicious damage to property and negligence after he allegedly incited other prisoners to riot and protest against poor food and other conditions at Chikurubi Maximum Prison a few weeks back would thus present a new interesting dimension in the character of the frustrated polygamist who is certainly missing his bevy of beauties.
Tracing the jailbreak from its roots, Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services spokesperson, Elizabeth Banda confirmed that prisoners rose to an extremely violent riot over poor meals whilst others claimed that the food situation among other welfare issues in the supposed rehabilitation centre had gone to extremes.
The alleged jailbreak attempt has however been met with tongues wagging from civic society organisations, political and social commentators and academics, who are claiming that the Gumbura drama is a weak attempt at creating a juicy bid by government to divert attention from the real issues which is the horrific deterioration of conditions in the country’s prisons.Zimbabwe Lawyers For Human Rights (ZLHR) among other rights watchdogs has produced thick volumes of reports about inhuman conditions in Zimbabwe’s prisons.
Some claim that far from being correctional and rehabilitation centres, Zimbabwean prisons have become hell-holes and death traps for inmates, and what happened at Chikurubi only reflects the notion what extent of tyranny is determined by the oppressed.
ZLHR lawyer representing Gumbura, Tapson Dzvetera told Radio VOP that it is unethical to comment on cases that are still pending judgement but urged government to make sure that they make all pre – requisites available for prisoners, as guests of the state.
“It will be unethical for me to disclose information on cases pending judgement though I would like to strongly urge our government to make all pre – requisites available for inmates. Just like anyone, they also need proper food, shelter and clothing,” said Dzvetera.
Social commentator and historian Davison Mabweazara Mugodzwa said that the government is simply finger hiding from real issues that should be corrected by charging the incarcarated clergy-cum rapist of trying to escape from the country’s largest correctional facility.
“The truth of the matter is that living conditions in Zimbabwean prisons have drastically deteriorated to unacceptable levels over the years and these could have triggered off riots as the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back The claim that Gumbura wanted to escape from prison is probably a political cover up for the shoot-out incident in which some inmates lost their lives during the riot,” argued Mugodzwa.
Crisis Coalition Zimbabwe information and programs officer, Vivid Gwede also had similar sentiments as he urged government to stop all the flimsy accusations and look into what exactly made Gumbura (if indeed he is the one who masterminded the riots) successful in mobilising inmates including some hard core criminals.
“It is quite unreasonable that the government goes to charge Gumbura and company of a crime without addressing the issue that made the people protest. Obviously, there will be another similar incident like that again because if it is food as we heard that triggered the uprising, why not address the problem because if they combat the wrong cause as they are doing now they are exposed to more insurrections of that nature,” said Gwede.
Political analyst and academic, Jowere Mukusha could neither deny nor accept government’s attempt to divert attention on the real issue as he simply highlighted that there was someone spearheading the riot as there is no smoke without fire.
“There is obviously someone spearheading the riots as there is no smoke without fire. These riots were lucidly depicted by prison officers in the media as food riots though at the end people would definitely have different intentions. So, honestly one cannot take sides on either government charging Gumbura and fellow inmates or addressing prison problems as both issues should be equally dealt with,” said Mukusha.
General reflections from a cross section of citizens show that there have been concerns as years passed by on the deterioarating quality of food prisoners get as well as other unattended welfare issues affecting Zimbabwean prisons.