Gumbura tells court of Chikurubi horror

HARARE-ROBERT Martin Gumbura and other convicts who have been transferred to remand prison on allegations of masterminding the unprecedented food riots at Chikurubi Maximum Prison Monday told court that they were facing lame discrimination at the hands of prison wardens.gumburaGumbura, 59, and his colleagues Blessing Chiduke, 25, Luckmore Matambanadzo, 39, Luck Mhungu, 38, Taurai Dodzo, 47, Thomas Chacha, 37, Thulani Chizema, 32,Jacob Sibanda, 28, and Elijah Vhumbunu, 38 have been transferred to a special cell, FB1 where they stay in total darkness.

They are being charged with an attempt to escape from lawful custody, incitement in aggravating circumstances in relation to malicious damage to property and incitement to assault or resist a peace officer.

Gumbura is however not being represented in this case after his lawyer, Tapson Dzvetero, argued that the allegations did not disclose an offence at law.

In their application for referral to the Constitutional Court, through Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human rights, the prisoners said they were now being denied toilet paper, tooth paste, toothbrushes and bathing soap on top of being isolated in total darkness.

Their lawyer Tawanda Hofisi said the treatment was degrading and dehumanising.

“The accused now stay in solitary confinement which may induce psychological suffering. They are denied access to sanitary materials and they only see natural light for only 15 minutes a day. They are not allowed to put on any foot wear. Of course, they are no longer being assaulted but needless to say, this is dehumanising and degrading,” said Hofisi.

However, public prosecutor Michael Reza said the state had nothing to do with their requests.

“Prisons operate in terms of the Prisons Act. There is a reason for such treatment and the defence is trying to cloth the court with powers it does not possess. It will be improper for a public prosecutor to tell the prison commissioner how to run his arm. The state would not know about their mere allegations. If there is no basis that these sanitary products should be denied the state however calls for that to be availed,” he said.

Magistrate, Tendai Mahwe, however said the prisoners were still entitled to basic human rights and, as such, should enjoy them equally.

He echoed the state’s remarks that the court could do nothing with regards to their staying in total darkness.

“The prison should decide who goes to which cell; the court can only grant an order that prisoners enjoy access to basic rights,” he said.

The convicts initially made an application against remand citing that they were being denied health care, food, and spent the whole day stark naked but it was turned down.

Mahwe will decide their fate to the current charges on June 5.

Accusations are that Gumbura told inmates in B hall that their rights were being trampled on by the State, which was serving them substandard food.

The State claims that Gumbura told other prisoners that they were foolish not to take matters into their hands through protests.

Gumbura allegedly told inmates to protest for better quality food by singing throughout the night and the message was passed to inmates in C and D halls.

This triggered violence and that night, they sang until dawn, banging on cell iron bars.

Around 9am, porridge was served but inmates refused to eat because it had no sugar and demanded to see the prison chief superintendent.

The court heard that just before the food was served, the late Titus Mandikoza went on top of the roof through a hole and started shouting that prisoners were not supposed to eat the food.

At that moment, Vhumbunu and Sibanda poured the food on the prison officer and violence subsequently erupted.

Inmates in C hall started breaking water pipes, sinks, asbestos, window panes, destroying property valued at $450 000, the state says.

Efforts by one assistant commissioner Dhenya and other prison officers to calm the violence were in vain as the riotous prisoners charged towards prison officers, the State alleges.

Subsequently, ZRP Support Unit was called in and fired shots at some of the accused persons who were on the rooftop.