HARARE – An inmate who escaped from Chikurubi Maximum Prison after getting help from prison officers has been captured and slapped with a further four years in prison.
Tawanda Chikonyora, 35, had been serving four years for theft and was left with 39 days to complete his term when he escaped in January this year.
Chikonyora — who was an A Class prisoner — claims he was given a set of civilian clothes and bus fare by one senior prison officer Gandiwa, who allegedly helped him to escape unnoticed.
This was after a mobile phone was found in his cell that showed EcoCash transactions he and other inmates made with prison wardens.
The EcoCash transactions were to enable special favours for inmates.
Harare magistrate Victoria Mashamba said she was shocked that prison officers — who are considered as custodians of the convicts and the law — had actually facilitated Chikonyora’s jailbreak, putting the safety of the public at risk.
“The accused person committed a very serious offence of escaping from lawful custody. The maximum penalty for the offence is seven years in the event that violence was used, however, the accused person did not use any force,” Mashamba said.
“The court is surprised why prison officers conducted themselves in such a manner and a message ought to be sent to would-be offenders in jail not to be influenced by prison wardens to conduct such an offence.”
One year was suspended on condition Chikonyora does not commit a similar offence in the next five years.
Prosecutor Patience Chimusaru urged the court to impose a stiff penalty that would make the public gain trust in the judicial system.
“The accused is saying he was forced to escape and that another senior officer demanded for a bribe, why did he not refuse and report to relevant authorities than to flee? He brought the name of Prison Service into disrepute as the public is likely to lose confidence in them thinking there is no security at prisons,” she said.
Chimusaru proved that Chikonyora had a cellphone in his cell which was discovered by the officer-in-charge.
After going through the phone, the unnamed officer-in-charge reportedly demanded a bribe to remain silent about the issue and also demanded Chikonyora to release a list of names of prison officers that engaged in underhand dealings.
Chikonyora offered to send the officer-in-charge money through EcoCash since he had $364 in his personal savings but he refused and demanded cash to remain silent about the issue.
Chikonyora pleaded with the court to have the phone brought to court so that the court would adduce evidence to prove that what he was saying was true.