Zimbabwe made history yesterday by being the first country in SADC to open a female open prison.
The open prison gives credence to Zimbabwe’s drive to modernise prison and correctional services.
Under the open prison concept, inmates are allowed to go home and spend some time with their family members and relatives as part of their rehabilitation. At the core of the Marondera Female Open Prison is a kitchen hut built by First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa, who also provided essential traditional utensils. The First Lady is the patron of the Prison Foundation Trust. She was appointed the patron in recognition of her mission to uplift and empower the country’s womenfolk.
The Trust pooled resources including gas stoves and solar systems to power the kitchen hut, a borehole and fowl runs for poultry projects.
Many stakeholders and individuals donated, among other things, cattle, goats, beds, blankets and computers to the institution.
Through her Angel of Hope Foundation, the First Lady weighed in with an assortment of groceries including maize-meal, rice, laundry soap, cooking oil and Soya mice.
Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Deputy Minister Tino Machakaire honoured his pledge to donate five Brahman heifers during the ground-breaking ceremony, while Mrs Tsitsi Sekeramayi, gave the institution 10 Boer goats to kick-start projects.
Officially opening the prison, Amai Mnangagwa described it as a “historic and memorable day in the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) towards women emancipation and empowerment”.
Despite having wronged respective communities, the First Lady said there was need to extend another chance to redefine criminal behaviour and become law-abiding citizens.
“In this regard, we are here to fulfil the much-anticipated opening of the first ever Female Open Prison in Marondera, not only in Zimbabwe but in the SADC region. Following the approval by Cabinet in 1996 for Zimbabwe to adopt an open prison system, Connemara Male Open Prison was established, with the first inmates taking occupation in 2000. Based on the success stories experienced at Connemara towards offender rehabilitation and reintegration as articulated by the then Commissioner-General, late Major General Paradzai Willings Zimondi, considerations were thus made to establish a similar institution for female inmates.
“I am pleased to inform that a Female Open Prison Foundation Trust to which I am Patron, was established to work on mobilising resources for the intended Female Open Prison. On 10 January 2020, we had a ground breaking ceremony here at Marondera. Efforts were made to mobilise resources and a number of stakeholders came on board with pledges and donations. In April 2020, construction work started with developments being witnessed on this official opening today.
“May it be admitted that the Commissioner General, ZPCS Family and Zimbabwe Female Open Prison Foundation Trust worked their hearts out to make this cause a success. This is in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic challenges since 2019. As the Patron of the Foundation Trust, I also give credit to the Government of Zimbabwe for approving the establishment of the purposefully built Female Open Prison. It is meant to meet the special needs of female inmates as well as serving as a vehicle for their rehabilitation, reintegration and empowerment to enhance their livelihoods after prison,” she said.
The First Lady said it was worth mentioning that ZPCS had moved from the punitive way to a correctional thrust that caters for correctional approach, as dismissed from punishment.
This, she said, signifies the observance of rights of inmates as well as empowering them with knowledge and life skills which are focused on helping to prepare them for a decent life upon discharge from correctional institutions.
The mother of the nation said most females committed crimes of passion and it remained so disheartening that they always served their sentences in closed systems.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to register my gratitude to all those who are yet to stretch their hands to make this project a success, to consider a commitment to part ways with their resources towards this project in an effort to ensure that this long awaited dream comes to fruition. It may not be easy for one to consider investing in an area that most people do not want to be associated with, especially those who would have been found to be in conflict with the law are involved. Over and above, let’s join hands together and give a round of applause to our esteemed partners, stakeholders and individuals showed their love in making a great difference on the lives of this vulnerable group of the society.”
The First Lady said the female open prison would promote and help female inmates’ rehabilitation and reintegration pipeline, focusing on empowering and improving the moral character of a woman by extending opportunities that increase their self-esteem, so that they develop positive minds during and after their time in prison.
Open prisons, she said, allowed inmates access to Vocational Training programmes that offers and equip female inmates with different skills to help them after release.
The First Lady said it was a fact that delivering an open prison was no easy task, but called for great commitment.
“As the Patron of the Zimbabwe Female Open Prison Foundation Trust, I am grateful for the strong support from everyone who contributed. Today’s ceremony therefore marks and serves as one of the key milestones to our combined effort. Let me appeal to the community, churches and civic organisations for your continued support. To the ZPCS, continue pursuing prison management best practices to satisfy the United Nations minimum standard rules on the treatment of inmates. To inmates qualified to be housed here, impress and justify your keenness of total transformation towards desirable behaviours,” she said.
ZPCS Commissioner-General Moses Chihobvu described the establishment of the female open prison as a milestone in their efforts towards a modernised prisons and correctional management approach.
Comm-Gen Chihobvu said ZPCS established a male open prison in the Midlands Province in 2000 as a pilot project that proved a success, hence the opening of a similar facility for female inmates.
“It is important to appreciate that women are by nature caregivers in families and communities at large, hence the idea of establishing such a facility enhances, promotes and bonds relationships with respective families. I want to accept that in spite of such a critical role, women have been omitted to benefit this preferential package of privileges. Resultantly, female inmates have continued their sentences under the closed system. However, today’s event marks a positive development in the observance of women’s inclusion and importance in our societies,” he said.
The open prison system, Comm-Gen Chihobvu said, was key in the rehabilitation pipeline that prepared inmates for their successful integration back into society.
“The open prison concept also comes with many advantages some of which include the opportunity to go on home leave thereby allowing beneficiaries interactive time with their families. This I must admit, corrects misconceptions that are normally associated with being imprisoned,” he said.
In her remarks, Mashonaland East Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Aplonia Munzverengwi praised the First Lady for her commitment to various development programmes.
“Your support towards this great cause among other areas that you have assisted the ZPCS and the nation at large shall continue to be treasured and cherished by all progressive citizens,” she said.
Inmates at the institution expressed delight at the breath of fresh air brought by an open prison.
Sibongile Manyati, who is doing time for robbery and has been in prison since 2019, could not hide her joy.
“What has happened here has pleased me because I am among women who have been lucky to get into an open prison. This is important for me as I once served in a closed facility. I want to thank the First Lady that we can now have a chance to visit our families that we separated with a long time ago,” she said with a broad smile.
The female inmates are doing many income-generating projects that include sewing.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi was among senior Government officials who attended yesterday’s occasion.