IT WAS slightly after 4:30pm on a breezy Monday afternoon when Betty Ncube (71) sauntered out of the lice and disease infested Mlondolozi Female Prison in Khami about 30km west of Bulawayo.
BENSON DUBE/INNOCENT NXUMALO
It was also the same time some inmates in the intimidating Babylon-like complex prepared to go to sleep when Ncube tasted freedom eight years after being sent into the slammer for murdering a man in Tsholotsho in early 2000.
Ncube, who was serving a 15-year sentence for murder, could not hide her joy after being set free courtesy of President Robert Mugabe’s amnesty which came into effect on Monday.
“God works in miraculous ways,” said Ncube. “I did not expect to be set free so soon. I thank the Lord and I thank the government,” said the visibly elated grandmother.
“I hope I will be accepted in society when I get home,” she said.
Ncube was slapped with a 15-year jail term after killing a man in a brawl. Relating her ordeal to Southern Eye soon after walking out of the prison compound, Ncube said she did not intend killing the man, but did so in self-defence.
“I regret what happened. It was not my intention, but I hit the person at a fatal point,” she said, gesturing with her hands and pointing out where she used the object to hit the victim on the head, fracturing his skull and resulting in his death.
Ncube was part of the first batch of 85 convicts released on Monday from Mlondolozi who are grateful to Mugabe’s pardon that will see close to 2 000 inmates released from 46 prisons dotted around the country.
Another freed convict, Samukeliso Nkomo, who was serving a 15-year sentence for indecent assault, but had just done two years, could not believe her luck that she had been released with 13 more years of her sentencing remaining.
Nkomo was not ashamed to tell Southern Eye that she was convicted for sleeping with a minor in Nkayi.
“But miracles happen. I am free today and I tell you I will never ever be put in jail again because life is hard in jail,” said Nkomo, who was already in her civvy as she prepared to board a Zimbabwe Prisons Service truck that was going to drop some of the inmates outside Tredgold Building in Bulawayo.
Another lucky convict is Diana Nkorima, who was released after serving only two years of her 18-year sentence for murder.
Nkorima did not finish talking to Southern Eye as she had to dash to board the prison truck that was about to leave fearing she would be returned behind bars.
A number of inmates also gave birth while serving their respective sentences, among them Margaret Makotose, who hails from Gweru. She was sentenced to 15-years for murder and she had done nine years.
She told Southern Eye she was one-month pregnant when convicted and eight months later, a baby boy she christened Promise Mateyawu was born in prison.
He was taken by her parents and she could not wait to be reunited with her boy.
While in prison, Makotose said she acquired sewing and knitting skills she now hopes would help her earn a decent life outside as a free person.
“Prison is not a place to belong,” Makotose said.
“My child is now in Grade 3 and I am going to look after him since I am free. I will apply skills I learnt while in prison.”
Melina Mumpandi had committed a crime previously thought to be a male vice — stock theft — and sentenced to nine years, but served three years before walking free on Monday.
“I am happy to be free and I hope society will accept me and be able to look after my children,” said Mumpandi.
Welly Mpofu, who drove to the prison complex to fetch his mother, implored the community to accept the former inmates and allow them to be integrated into society. Mpofu would not reveal what his mother had been incarcerated for.
“I urge the communities to forget the past and assist in the rehabilitation of the former inmates,” he said.
Edison Chihota, the chief executive of the Zimbabwe Association of Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of Offenders (ZACPRO), welcomed Mugabe’s pardon, but pointed out that the government needed to avail funds through the relevant ministries to assist in the integration and rehabilitation of the former inmates. Chihota, whose non-governmental organisation has been instrumental in the release of some of the prisoners, said they had lobbied heavily to decongest the country’s prisons estimated to be holding about 18 000 inmates nationwide.
“The amnesty is a huge relief to ZPCS (Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services) because of the situation in the prisons.
“There is no food, blankets, clothing, medicine and poor sanitation because the relevant ministries have no resources. The ZPCS budget is not enough to cater for the welfare of more than 18 000 inmates,” said Chihota.
He added that failure by the government to hire social workers to assist the former convicts could result in some of them quickly finding their way back to prison.
“There is need for counselling, but I am afraid the government has no money and there are few donors that can assist in the rehabilitation of the former prisoners,” Chihota said.
The released were convicts who did not appear in the specified categories, which include those on death row or life in prison, rape, carjacking, sexual crimes, stock theft and those who were accessories in committing the crime.
They also included juveniles, regardless of their crimes, the terminally ill certified by a prison medical officer or government doctor and those certified unable to survive their sentence; all those who were sentenced to 36 months and below who had served a quarter of their sentence and their offences do not fall in the specified categories.