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May 26, 2010

"Dickens in the tropics"

Prisoners sleeping in Malawi's Muala Prison. (Photo: Foreign Prisoner Support Service)

Since the news came this morning that Steven Monjeza has been separated from his lover Tiwonge Chimbalanga and sent from Chichiri Prison to Zomba Prison, it is sobering to see how awful the conditions in Malawi's prisons are. An article on African prisons by the Foreign Prisoner Support Service describes Malawi's high-security prisons as "Dickens in the tropics, places of cruel, but hardly unusual punishment. Prosecutors, judges, even prison wardens agree that conditions are unbearable, confinements intolerably long, justice scandalously uneven."

A Wikipedia entry on the Malawi prison system states:

Zomba Central Prison built in 1935 is the only maximum security prison in the country, holding prisoners with long sentences or serious offences. Severe overcrowding throughout the prison system provides a conducive environment for the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis.

Here is a passage from an article by PlusNews on HIV in prison:

Homosexual activity is illegal in every southern African country with the exception of South Africa. However, according to UNAIDS, 8.4 percent of men in the Zambian prison of Kamfinsa reported anal sex in a study in 1995, with the true figure likely to be higher. A 1999 Penal Reform International study of Zomba prison in Malawi reported respondents as estimating that between 10 to 60 percent of prisoners had participated in homosexual activity at least once.

Three aspects of man-to-man sexual activity in prison make it a high risk for HIV transmission: anal intercourse, rape and the presence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Related problems in prisons across Southern Africa include overcrowding, shortages, corruption, and the presence of juveniles alongside adult prisoners.

The Zomba study noted that those who served as the "receptive partner" were usually: "recently detained, either juveniles or young adults, who have no blanket, soap, plates or food. They have no relatives from the outside to help them and care for them, they are in physical need and confused by their recent detention, and they turn to somebody to care for them. The ones they usually turn to are those who have outside supplies. The relationship between them was described as similar to that between a poor prostitute and a rich client."

I will post further updates and an address for writing to Steven Monjeza in Zomba prison as soon as I get them.


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