Activists denied food in Zimbabwe prisons

Zimbabwean student leaders are being denied food in police cells, further proving President Mugabe’s administration is not prepared to stop violating human rights there...

Zimbabwe is viewed by Western governments such as Britain and the United States as a country that has a base level human rights record.

In Britain, premier Tony Blair recently told parliament that Mugabe’s administration is a "disgrace".

His statement seems to have been confirmed by Zimbabwe’s students´ umbrella body, the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu).

"The situation in the students' movement continues to expose the pain which the ZANU PF government is prepared to cause in the quest to entrench and perpetuate its evil rule," said Promise Mkwananzi, Zinasu´s newly elected president.

Mkwananzi alleged that some ruling ZANU PF party members singing and chanting party slogans were loitering at police stations and courts in Bindura threatening lawyers who have since fled to Harare to make an urgent High Court application seeking an order guaranteeing their protection in Mashonaland Central Province, believed to be one of the strongholds of Zanu PF and a very unfavourable area for opposition politics.

The number of student detainees has risen from 39 to 56 and the arrested students have been remanded to the 25 May. The Zinasu president described this as "a feat which has never happened in the history of the students movement in Zimbabwe".

Zinasu has written an urgent letter to President Mugabe urging him to personally intervene and stop a named high ranking official from giving directives to the police.

The students' body asked Mugabe where Elliot Manyika, a minister without portfolio, draws his mandate from as he is neither the Home Affairs minister, the Commissioner of Police nor the Attorney General. Manyika could not be reached on his mobile phone for comment.

Apart from food, Mkwananzi said the detained students are being denied water and medication for those who sustained injuries like Beloved Chiweshe, the union’s secretary general.

In the letter to Mugabe the union complained that students would be writing examinations and their state of preparedness would be jeopardised should they remain in prison at the height of their examinations grace period. Mugabe is also the chancellor of all state universities in Zimbabwe.

The communication was also copied to South African leader Thabo Mbeki, the African Union, the Southern African Development Community, United Nations and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Zimbabwean students have been engaging in demonstrations countrywide to protest new fee increases of over 1,000 per cent recently.

The students have called on Higher and Tertiary Education minister Stanslius Gorerazvo Mudenge, to recant the new fees' structure, as it is "clearly unsustainable and an unnecessary assault on the right to education".

The learners, their parents and guardians are complaining that the new fee structures are unaffordable considering the inflation-eroded salaries that Zimbabweans are earning today. They also say the new fee exceed student grants being offered by the government.

The consumer bread basket now costs an average family about Z$40 million per month yet the country’s majority workforce is taking home far less than that.

Zimbabwe's inflation rate has surged past the 1,000 per cent mark signalling it is struggling to keep its economy functioning normally.

The annual rate of price growth was 1,042.9 per cent in April, the Central Statistics Office said, having risen 129 percentage points from March.

It means average goods are about 11 times as expensive in April 2006 as they were 12 months earlier.