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“THE sick man of Europe,” is a caricature whose origin is often attributed to Russian Tsar Nicholas the First. It is a hand-me-down term for falling empires.The derogatory term is now being used to refer to Zimbabwe’s situation as evidenced by the collapse of virtually everything.

News headlines scream of fresh calamities on a daily basis, starkly in contrast with its natural and intellectual endowments that should have made Zimbabwe a continental heavyweight.

Prison riots university strikes workers going for months without salaries health care deteriorating and company shut downs, are some of the headlines gleaned from the newsstands.

Zimbabwe has surely become the sick man of Africa.

Over the past week, the country has experienced a chain of events that confirm that all is not well in this nation we love to call our home.

Inmates at Chikurubi Maximum Prison recently ran riot, demanding a change of diet. Five inmates were gunned down while 27 people including prison officers and some inmates were injured during the disturbances.

An estimated 100 prisoners are said to have died in 2013 due to nutrition-related illnesses induced by food shortages and natural causes.

The state of prisons in Zimbabwe has always been bad but the continued downward spiral of the economy has worsened the situation by collapsing the sub-human conditions to animal sub-standards.

A joint press statement released by various non-governmental organisations said prisoners have rights and government should respect them.

“Prisoners have the right to be provided with food that is adequate to maintain their health and well-being and have access to reasonable medical care and treatment necessary for the preservation of health,” reads part of the statement.

Zimbabwe has almost 17 000 prisoners packed in 72 prisons which are severely underfunded, resulting in shortages of clothes and food for inmates.

A report by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the Law Society of Zimbabwe and the Community Law Centre at the University of Western Cape entitled Pre-Trial Detention in Zimbabwe an ‘Analysis of the Criminal Justice System and Conditions of Pre-Trial Detention’, exposes how bad the conditions in the country’s prisons are.

“Prison facilities have in the past been notorious for their failure to provide uniforms for inmates, with reports of prisoners receiving torn and tattered uniforms that compromised their dignity.

“There have even been reports of prisoners sharing and taking turns to wear uniforms as a result of the severe shortage. A priority of good uniforms was given to suspects in remand prison who would be attending court,” the report reads in part.

Even a free man in Zimbabwe is having a fair share of problems.

Life is getting unbearable by the day as the majority of the population scavenge for food to survive.

But for those doing time, this luxury is denied. They cannot fend for themselves, beg or offer their labour. If the cupboard is bare they go without.

The Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender director, Edson Chihota, believes that, “The economy has melted down and some prisons are no longer performing some of their duties.”

Indeed, the effects of the harsh economic climate are reverberating everywhere.

Recently, students from the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) launched their own offensive, staging a demonstration on Tuesday together with their lecturers in a bid to push the authorities to own up and pay salaries for the university staff who are yet to get their February dues.

So bad was the situation that riot police had to be dispatched to bring sanity to the country’s oldest learning institution.

Government admits that there is a mismatch between its expenditure and financial inflows to the Treasury hence it is struggling to pay salaries.

Great Zimbabwe University, Midlands State University, National University of Science and Technology and the University of Zimbabwe are among the colleges that have been hit hard.

“The prison and UZ riots and the general state of prisons is an indication of all that has gone wrong in Zimbabwe, key the failure by the government to take care of its citizens and least of all put measures in place for citizens to take care of themselves.

“There is a glaring leadership deficit and this is creating uncertainty and concern hence the rising tensions,” says analyst Rashweat Mukundu.

Workers at the troubled National Railways of Zimbabwe have resorted to sleeping at the parastatals’ premises in a bid to push the employers to pay them their outstanding 10 months salaries.

Those who are being paid are getting 20 percent of their salaries which is between US$40 and US$80 depending on one’s grade.

This is one of the country’s countless companies that are ailing and struggling to pay workers.

The impoverished government has hinted that it is negotiating for a US$700 million loan from the Development Bank of South Africa to help resuscitate the collapsing parastatal.

Reports indicate that over 4 600 companies closed shop between 2011 and October last year, with nearly 64 000 workers losing their jobs.

The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries also reports that industrial capacity utilisation has slowed down for a third straight year running, to 36,3 percent.

The economy is struggling, the two million jobs promised are nowhere in sight, people are living well below the poverty datum line and there is no hope in sight for a better day unless the government prioritises the needs of the people.

Source : Financial Gazette