via Bucket toilets serious violation of prisoners’ rights – NewsDay Zimbabwe September 9, 2015
SIXTEEN years ago I was part of a noisy and excitable group of high school students aboard a worn-out and shaky Mhiripiri Express bus for a trip to Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.
Scores of students chatted happily with the kind of excitement ignited by being absent from school for the whole day. The adventure of seeing prison life tickled us. Little was known about prison life except tales of atrocious food, communicable diseases and sexual abuse.
Such stories were rampantly associated with prison and emphatically shared to deter mischief. We had a second-hand knowledge of prison life. However, the day-long visit proved to be a damascene moment for most students, who had exhibited criminal tendencies in the past. As the tour guide led us inside the stuffy cells, the murmurs in the group slowly died down; the reality of prison life struck. The spark of excitement on our faces was steadily replaced by sombreness as the chilling truth came closer home.
The lice-infested linen and rigours of prison life preached to us a sermon that no pastor or chaplain could ever match. A glance at the holey thin blankets and the revolting diet was enough to make the most obstinate pupil toe the line. The stench, which greeted one’s nostrils upon entering the cells was indescribable.
According to the prison-guide, supper was taken at a punishing 4pm. We were also astonished by the back-breaking work prisoners had to contend with. Vast lands had to be tilled and huge gardens watered. The amount of work required of prisoners did not, in the slightest, tally with the frugal meals we saw being served to inmates. The tour left an indelible mark on our minds.
However, it would appear the prison life we thought detestable in the years past was miles better than the situation obtaining today. Prison conditions have hit an all-time low. At least back then, tap water flowed freely and human dignity was preserved.
Back then prisoners had a diet of meat thrice a week. Back then, prisoners were not packed like sardines in a small cell. Back then, we never heard that Bibles bequeathed to prisons had been used as toilet paper; we never heard of tissue paper running out.
Personally, I find the unavailability of tap water in such a massive institution unforgivable. The unavailability of tap water has given rise to the use of the demeaning bucket toilet system. This is plainly in violation of the constitutional provision in Section 50 (4) (d) which states that, “Prisoners have the right to conditions of detention that are consistent with human dignity . . .”
In a developed and civilised society as ours, use of the bucket toilet system is archaic. Even the confirmation by the deputy commissioner in charge of administration that some of the country’s prisons have trudged on without tap water for the past 10 years should really be a matter of concern. Prison life, by its very nature, is quite revolting and it can only become inhuman in the absence of basic necessities of life such as water, not to mention toilet paper.
Very few believed the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) when it noted that inmates at Chikurubi Maximum Prison were using buckets to relieve themselves in their cells, but this is the obtaining reality.
While it is appreciated that there are water challenges bedevilling the country, some places should rank as priority areas.
Hospitals, boarding schools, universities and prisons, for instance, should really be places of priority. What most people do not realise in terms of imprisonment is that the mere snatching away of one’s right to liberty inflicts the severest punishment on a human being. Anyone who has been taken in will fully appreciate this truth. Psychologists actually recommended incarceration after noting its immense distressing effect on the human mind. No wonder jail remains a repulsive place whether one is in a developed or developing country.
I had always wondered seeing prisoners in the United States, for example, playing sport and being treated to state-of-the-art physical fitness facilities. Questions of what I perceived to be a luxurious prison life had nagged me until, on hindsight, after studying law, I realised that the essence of prison lies in the taking away of one’s right to personal liberty.
Prison should reform and not entrench delinquency. The situation obtaining in our prisons actually makes prison a place worse than what prison should be. Spare a thought for nursing mothers who, time and again, have to wash nappies. Spare a thought for the woman on her monthly cycle. How about the babies? Think of the prison labourers who have to retire to prison cells, sweaty after a hard day’s work. Surely, this is a gross violation of human rights. It is in defiance of logic how authorities are not improvising in the face of such a time bomb. Doesn’t it necessarily follow that the water-borne disease deaths we continue witnessing in prison could well be avoided by judiciously attending to the water problem? Prisoners too have a right to water and if authorities do not see the urgency in this then we wonder what else will constitute emergency.