The Sunday Mail
WHEN inmates at Harare Central Prison gather for their Sunday vigil, it’s never certain where the prayer is destined to.
Despite the Christian-doctrine- inspired prayer offered in unison during the routine service, belief among these convicts is as uniquely individual as the sentences they are serving.
Prisoners of Muslim, Baha’i, Rastafari, Satanism, Nyau, Buddhism, Atheism and Hindi faith all make part of the Zimbabwe prison population.
Having to cede to the Christian faith during official programmes, inmates like 28 year old Abdullah Matora of Muslim faith who was incarcerated in 2017 feels like falling short of his faith.
Matora who is behind bars for unlawful entry and theft feels that Christianity is prioritised over other religions.
“In my religion, there are rituals that come with worshipping and some of these are very significant in that they have an influence over a particular situation. So there are times that we need to conduct these and there are specific situations that call for us to perform them (rituals) too.
“If the prison authorities could give us a proper platform to worship, we would really appreciate because I personally feel that they give much room for Christians,” he said.
Matora yearns for special rituals like burning of incense or Sadaka which is performed at the end of the Holy month of Ramadan or after burial of a Muslim.
A Rastafarian who refused to be named said not cutting his hair and smoking weed is part of his religious practices but prison will not allow him to appease his gods.
“I became a Rastafari in 1999 during my university days in Jamaica where I studied for an Arts and Theatre degree. Since then I do not eat meat but smoking weed was part of worship.
“Although I have held on to my religion, something is amiss and in a way it demotivates because when you worship you obviously would want the whole package but I have accepted that this is prison.”
At Chikurubi Maximum Prison, Simbarashe Munakamwe says he is in need of traditional cleansing rituals as a firm believer of African Traditional Religion (ATR).
As he serves a 17-year sentence for murdering his sister-in-law and attempting to kill his wife, Munakamwe is a tormented soul as he battles to come to terms with spiritual reprisals of his misdeeds.
His hope lies in a cleansing ceremony to set him free from the spiritual backlash.
“I cannot sleep peacefully, even though I am now baptised I still need that cleansing and their (in-laws) ancestors need to be appeased.
“I wish for the authorities to help me because I desperately need this cleansing, baptism alone cannot take it away. I cannot go for the entire 17 years like this,” said the inmate.
Haunted by evil spirits
Munakamwe said he is haunted by evil spirits and during the night he sometimes sees his sister-in-law lying in a pool of blood.
However, the Christians themselves also feel not enough is being done to give them a proper worship platform. Forgiveness Chirinda who was incarcerated in 2009 and sentenced to 12 years in prison for rape feels his prayers do not hold much weight.
Growing up in Johane Masowe weChishanu Apostolic Sect, the 32-year old jailbird believes without proper rituals as per his church demands, his prayers cannot hold enough value.
Johane Masowe weChishanu members normally worship at a shrine known as ‘Krawa’ and make use of instruments such as clay pots, wooden rods and other tools that can be requested depending with the prophecy.
All this is not allowed in a prison environment.
“Here we pray as a group regardless of your belief and for me as a member of Johane Masowe it is very difficult because our church has its specific set of demands which we obviously cannot perform when we worship as a huge group of different denominations.
“While I am happy that at least we have a worship platform, in my church we conduct such rites as ‘miteuro’ but unfortunately in a group worship platform we can not do that.
“Some, especially the newly converted need these rituals so that their problems are tackled spiritually and so if they (rituals) cannot be performed they give up.
“Some of the rituals are performed because the Holy Spirit would have demanded so,” he said.
Tendai Musatyire, (31), says he has since stopped worshipping because if he cannot perform rituals as per his religion‘s demands, it means his woes will not go away.
Musatyire was sentenced to six years in prison in 2015 after he was found in possession of an elephant trunk and pleaded guilty to contravening the wildlife act.
He is a Johane Masowe weNguwo Tsvuku congregant, to him his church rituals have a huge bearing in his line of worship.
“In my religion, there is no way one can worship, not performing their proper rituals and expect their woes to simply vanish,” he said.
Johane Masowe ye Nguwo Tsvuku is well known for its rituals which involve the use of weapons such as machetes, razor blades and spears. The Christian faith is dominant in the prison as it is in the general Zimbabwe populace.
According to the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services, 2018 statistics reveal that Christians make up 87 percent of the total number of inmates while 13 percent accounts for other religions. In this 2018, 4 102 inmates were baptised in all prisons. ZPCS also notes that various Christian stakeholders make a greater percentage of donors and ministers who visit prisons thereby spreading their influence.
ZPCS Deputy Chaplain General, Chief Superintendent Maurice Muchanyereyi said their conduct was guided by the principle that prison is a correctional facility and would confine certain benefits. He highlighted that restrictions on ritual ornaments was based on health and security reasons.
“Inmates are a very delicate group of people from whom we can expect anything. Not all inmates have come to terms with being in prison and seeing such weapons within their reach may tempt them into doing all sorts of bad things like committing suicide or injuring others.
“We give room for all religions to worship. This is to say we cannot deny any other religion even Satanists their rights to worship provided they do not use any weapons or conduct any activities that are harmful to others.
“As the Constitution makes it clear under Section 58, we uphold all religions and try as much as possible to give all of them their freedom of worship.
“It is also our understanding that religion plays an important role in the rehabilitation process of the inmates which is why we allow for worship and baptism. However behind bars, one is baptised under the prison not a specific church,” Chaplain Muchanyereyi said.
In extreme cases where inmates insist that they need rituals for deliverance, they go through counselling sessions to enlighten them on why it is not conducive to conduct the ceremonies in prison.
The need for family and relatives to be present during certain rituals make these requests impossible.
“Depending with the prison, an inmate maybe given other options varying from allowing them to visit home for the rites or if it’s a worst case we make them temporarily suspend their programme,” said the Chaplain.
Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission chief human rights officer for Complaints Handling and Investigations, Mrs Kurai Makumbe said inmates are also entitled to their rights despite the fact that they are incarcerated.
Makumbe concurred, however, that some rights cannot be granted lest they pave way for problems amongst the inmates.
“Yes the inmates are entitled to their rights as human beings but they should understand that by giving them the right to gather and worship, their rights are being recognised.
“However, in as much we would want them to benefit much, we should strike a balance between provision of rights and prison rules.
“The fact that it is a correctional service which is now friendlier than prison does not necessarily mean they are guaranteed of all rights,” she said.