Main News Zimbabwe

COVID-19 fears in prisons

Jacob Mafume

BY MOSES MATENGA     

SAFETY questions over the way inmates are treated in prisons came to the fore yesterday after lawyers representing Jacob Mafume told the court that the suspended Harare mayor had started exhibiting symptoms related to COVID-19 while in remand prison.

Mafume was yesterday remanded in custody to January 12 to allow him to go for medical treatment as he was visibly sick.

His lawyer Tendai Biti said Mafume was exhibiting symptoms linked to COVID-19.

“The matter was postponed to January 12 to allow him to get a medical examination,” Biti told NewsDay Weekender.

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“He is displaying COVID-19 symptoms. He is not eating, he is weak, has a fever and the court acknowledged that because you can tell even by just looking at him physically that he is not well.”

Last year, court cases between the State and journalist Hopewell Chi’nono and opposition Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume revealed the deplorable conditions inmates were subjected to, which increased the risk to infection by the global pandemic whose cases were spreading in the country.

In July, Ngarivhume and Chin’ono said they were exposed to unhygienic conditions, lack of potable water and personal protective equipment (PPE), conditions the duo said offered a platform for the spread of the virus.

In November, an inmate at Chikurubi Maximum Prison (Chikurubi) sued the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) following an outbreak of waterborne diseases at the Harare correctional facility.

Mafume was arrested in December last year for criminal abuse of office after he allegedly allocated Westlea stands to his sister Rotina Mafume and his law firm’s secretary, Rutendo Muvuti, without following due process.

He was granted bail by the High Court, but was arrested again and charged for allegedly attempting to bribe a witness.

Prisons have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic that has worsened an already obtaining crisis of food shortages and lack of facilities to curb the spread of other diseases.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs permanent secretary Virginia Mabhiza was not immediately available for comment yesterday, but sources within the prisons blamed low rate in testing on the unavailability of test kits and other complexes.

The situation in prisons has been compounded by fears that most prisoners already have underlying conditions that make them vulnerable.

Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (Zacro) chief executive Edson Chiota was not immediately available for comment.

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Meanwhile, police yesterday arrested Chin’ono and were reportedly hunting down MDC Alliance national vice-chairperson Job Sikhala over their social media comments on a report claiming that a Harare police officer killed a nine-month old baby using a truncheon.

Chin’ono’s lawyer, Doug Coltart confirmed the arrest. He said he was at the police’s Law and Order Section.

“Yes, he has been arrested, and is charged with publishing falsehoods,” Coltart said.

In a tweet, Chin’ono said he was being charged with publishing falsehoods for tweeting that a child had been beaten up by a police officer.

“They are taking me to the Law and Order Section at Harare Central Police Station.

Sikhala also raised an alarm on Twitter that police were hunting for him over the same allegations.

“I am gathering that after my arrest they want to expose me to COVID-19. If anything happens to me, let it be known to Zimbabweans that I am COVID-19-free as I speak,” he claimed.

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said he was not aware of Chin’ono’s arrest.

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