The Sunday Mail
AS the second batch of 2 528 inmates walked out of various prisons around Zimbabwe last week, benefiting from the Presidential clemency, it was freedom at last for some, but others found themselves in an unexpected fix.
For James Dube, Maxwell Sibanda and Mncedisi Ncube, it was as if they were walking into yet another prison, a mental one.
Jail had been their home for over two decades.
They thought they would live and die there. Now they are stranded.
These men committed grave crimes and even though justice was served, they still have to pay for that.
Currently housed at a church in Glen View, Harare, they are not sure if their families will accept them or if they are still welcome there.
All three did not have a single relative or friend to welcome them back into society when they were released.
There were no tears of joy, just anguish.
Dube (56) was arrested for murder in 1996. In 1998, he was condemned to death before his sentence was commuted to life in prison 17 years later.
In the intervening years, he lost his wife.
He last communicated with his relatives in 2015 during a rare visit.
His fear is that he may not be welcomed by his family and society.
“When I was arrested, I left my mother, wife and two children behind, but my wife later died. I was not at her funeral. I am not sure if my children are still there or any other relative, so I am not sure under whose roof I will live,” said Dube.
As for Sibanda (56),he was jailed for murdering a close relative 26 years ago.
For him, this is not the first time that he has tasted freedom after the gruesome murder. Sibanda has been freed on a Presidential pardon before — but was re-arrested days later.
Prison authorities told him he had been released by mistake.
In an interview with The Sunday Mail at a church in Glen View, Sibanda feared history could play a trick on him once more.
“I was really heartbroken last time and never thought this day would come,” he said.
“I should be happy now, but I am not sure what will happen since I committed the offence within the family, so they may not accept me.”
While behind bars, none of Sibanda’s relatives visited. Apart from having nowhere to go, he also needs help to get back on his feet.
Fifty-two-year-old Ncube was also jailed for murder in 1996. After two years, he was placed on death row before his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
“I committed the murder in error while working at a local farm,” he said.
“I am the first born in a family of 12 and was not married by the time of arrest. Being the breadwinner by then, I am not sure how my siblings fared without me because our mother died while I was in prison.”
Ncube’s relatives neither visited nor communicated with him.
Since his incarceration, Government undertook the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme and his fear is the farming community he knew back then may not even exist anymore. Further, he might not be welcomed back home.
The Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church has come to the rescue of the three former inmates through a goodwill programme spearheaded by Pastor Dickson Moyo.
Pastor Moyo, who is also the church prison director, told The Sunday Mail that he had begun mediating between the released inmates and their families.
“I have already contacted some of their relatives. So once we secure fuel for travel, I am ready to take them to their villages,” he said.
“It is the church’s role to mend broken bonds with the help of traditional leaders.”
The church also offers continued counselling sessions to both the released inmates and their families before helping set-up projects for sustainability.
However, financial constraints and transport costs remain a challenge.
The three ex-prisoners said if their relatives do not welcome them back, they will stay at local SDA churches as they rebuild their lives.
Role of family
As the world celebrates International Day of Families this Friday, the day comes just after the release of Dube, Ncube, Sibanda and thousands of other criminals.
ZPCS officials say society is yet to appreciate that inmates fare better both inside and upon release if families support them.
Provincial Chaplain for Harare Metropolitan, Reverend Superintendent Gift Chirara, said many families overlook that they are vital for the rehabilitation of inmates.
“Society needs to stop stigmatising these people because once they feel rejected, they revert to crime,” he said.
Release of murderers explained
The release of 2 528 inmates last week and 1 680 others freed in March, is part of Government efforts to decongest the country’s prisons, especially in the wake of the coronavirus. Of the recently released population, six were serving life sentences.
According to the revised amnesty recently declared by President Mnangagwa, the life in prison convicts were supposed to have served at least 20 years to qualify for clemency.
Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) officer commanding Harare Province, Senior Assistant Commissioner Alvord Gapare, said: “We commend the President for pardoning these inmates in line with the amended amnesty aimed at decongesting our prisons.
“To complete the rehabilitation process, it calls for a collective effort in society, being accommodative of the released inmates, helping mould them into better people. At this stage, chiefs and village heads need to be at the forefront, reuniting families.”
Overpopulation had become a problem in Zimbabwe’s various prisons and recently the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ziyambi Ziyambi, said Government would start building new prisons. People released from prison encounter endless problems, among them stigma and difficulties with re-integrating into society.
For Dube, Ncube and Sibanda, it appears the ride will be a lot rougher, unless they get more than just freebies.