HARARE – While for some inmates in the country’s overflowing prisons the clock ticks towards release day, for those condemned to life sentence there is no end in sight but death.
Such anguish has prompted one such person, Khisimusi Ndlovu, who has been in prison since 1992, to approach the Supreme Court for recourse.
For 21 years now Ndlovu has been living in a box, his life a mundane routine where he has breakfast at 7am, lunch at 11 am and supper at 2pm.
Hard as it may sound that is exactly what people serving life imprisonment sentences have to endure.
At 50, Ndlovu, who has spent almost half of his life in jail after being imprisoned for attempted murder, says the life sentence is “a very serious transgression of human dignity” and must be declared unconstitutional.
The Filabusi-born Ndlovu was originally arrested for the murder of Twin Ngwenya but was convicted by the High Court in Bulawayo for attempted murder in 1991.
“No words can explain the meaningless and desolate state of existence that is caused by the sentence of life imprisonment,” said Ndlovu in an appeal filed with the Supreme Court recently.
Through his lawyers Nosimilo Chanayiwa and Tawanda Zhuwarara of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Ndlovu wants the Supreme Court to declare life imprisonment unconstitutional and strike it off Zimbabwe’s statute books.
“It is in itself a cruel form of punishment that is not just an affront to human dignity but ushers in hopeless and barren state of existence that I can only liken to perpetual purgatory,” he argues.
The Supreme Court is yet to set a hearing date for the case. Terming life imprisonment “inhuman and degrading”, Ndlovu argues that those suffering the punishment must get an automatic appeal at the Supreme Court as is the case with those sent to the gallows.
“I do not know how long I will live and as such I do not know when my punishment will end,” said the father of four, who does not know if he now has grandchildren or not.
“I am not eligible for remission, release by ministerial licence and not even for parole.”
Under the Prisons Act, only the Commissioner General of Prisons can recommend to the Justice and Legal Affairs minister for the President to decide whether or not to pardon or substitute a life imprisonment sentence.
“The process is arbitrary and inaccessible to me. I am left at the mercy of the Executive, hence my right to protection of law is violated.
“The violation lies in that, the process is not open to any judicial scrutiny and I am neither informed nor consulted at any level.
“I don’t even know if ever any reports have been made about me at all,” said Ndlovu.
He said he gave a notice of appeal to the High Court in Bulawayo against his sentence in 2007 but it was never processed.
The remorseful Ndlovu said he was “really sorry” for his participation in the crime.
“I yearn for the day that I would have paid my debt to society. I wish there was a way I could atone for my transgression.
“I believe I have been punished for what I did, but I cannot continue to be punished in perpetuity.
“I am no longer a danger to society and I wish to be reintegrated and socialised into society,” he said.
Ndlovu tells of how he misses his family. “I wish to see my children, and possibly my grandchildren so that my life serves as an example they can learn from.”
In the order that he is seeking, Ndlovu wants his life imprisonment commuted to a 21-year-sentence while life imprisonment is declared unconstitutional.
“Section 47 (2), 47 (3) and 49 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23 in so far as they provide for the sentence of life imprisonment are a violation of section 15 and 18 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and are thus declared unconstitutional,” reads part of the Draft Order Ndlovu is seeking.
The Justice and Legal Affairs minister, the Officer-in-Charge of Harare Central Prison, Commissioner General of Prisons and the Attorney General are cited as respondents in their official capacities in the court application.
Ndlovu is serving his sentence at Harare Central Prison, where he says life is miserable.
“Those serving life sentences are not permitted to go beyond certain areas of the prison complex. In fact my whole existence is confined to within 100m of our cell,” he said.
“My routine is the same everyday. I have absolutely nothing to look forward to.
“I wake up at 7am and eat breakfast. I eat lunch at 11am and dinner at 2pm. I am sent to my cell at 3pm, where I think or sleep until the next morning. The next morning, the routine starts all over again.
“In between meal times I have no entertainment, no newspapers, just limited interaction with other prisoners who are serving life sentences like me who also do not have much to share.”
Some inmates have chores they conduct which those serving life sentence do not perform, according to Ndlovu.
“Life imprisonment is being condemned to death. All I wait for and sometimes look forward to is the day that I will die. Not only have I been condemned to death, I have no recourse at law.”
And it is most likely that it is not only Ndlovu in this predicament.
There are several people in Zimbabwe’s prisons slapped with life imprisonment and waiting for the day they will meet their Maker.