- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Halfway through a 25-month sentence for theft, Brian Gumbo is literally rotting away - his skin peels because of malnutrition and the muscles in his legs have withered to the point where he can barely walk.

Mr. Gumbo, thought to be in his late 20s or early 30s, is one of several inmates videotaped through hidden cameras inside Zimbabwe’s prisons.

The images, shared with The Washington Times, are of gaunt prisoners with protruding ribs reminiscent of just-freed Holocaust survivors or Muslim prisoners held by Serbian troops during the Bosnian war.

“As an investigative journalist, I’ve seen a lot of human misery,” said Johann Abrahams, executive producer of “Hell Hole,” a documentary scheduled for broadcast Tuesday on the South African Broadcasting Corp. (SABC).

“But when I first viewed the Zimbabwe prison tapes, it shocked me. I was reminded of the German death camps at Dachau and Auschwitz,” he said.

Mr. Abrahams said several inmates featured in the documentary have since died.

He said his crew was able to obtain the images by working secretly with prison officers who wanted to expose the abuse.

The images compound reports ofcontinuedhuman rights atrocities in Zimbabwe, despite a recent power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition, and are likely to increase pressure for tougher measures against the southern African nation.

The United States already has personal sanctions in place against Mr. Mugabe and more than 200 of his closest advisers, including Prison Services Chief Paradzai Zimondi.

In one scene, the camera follows Mr. Gumbo as he shuffles from his cell to a hall, where he is given his daily meal: one bowl of corn porridge.

Like many prisoners, he suffers from pellagra caused by a lack of protein and niacin, one of the B vitamins. Left untreated, the deficiency leads to a loss of teeth, skin lesions, blindness and, ultimately, death.

Joseph Musonza, who now lives as a refugee in South Africa, was released from prison shortly before Christmas. He said that while it was rare for prisoners to be beaten or physically abused by guards, many died of neglect.

“It is hard to tell people my story because they accuse me of lying or exaggerating,” he told The Times. “In remand, before I was sentenced, I lived with 19 people in a cell built for maybe six. Nearly every night, someone died and it can be days before the bodies are [taken] away. In summer, there would be maggots in the man’s flesh and he is still lying next to you.”

Mr. Musonza served one year for assault, but he said the charge was political. He said people often were convicted because they belonged to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is now in a coalition government with Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

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