Yoliswa Dube-Moyo, Mat South Bureau Chief
AT Gwanda Prison, there is a belief that Saidi Banda (38), an inmate serving a 16-month sentence for illegal gold mining must really have a good set of hands after one of the cows under his care at the prison farm gave birth to twin calves recently.
Normally, cows are expected to give birth to one calf and only very rarely do they give birth to two.
Gwanda Prison Farm, located about seven kilometres south of Gwanda town along the Gwanda-Beitbridge highway, is running a thriving agricultural project comprising crop and livestock production.
The produce, which is wholly tended by the prison inmates is meant for their daily rations while Gwanda Provincial Hospital gets vegetables from the farm.
The surplus is sold to local communities.
The agricultural project is part of efforts to rehabilitate inmates and empower them for life after prison so that they do not become repeat offenders.
A portion of the farm has been used to cultivate maize under Pfumvudza/Intwasa, a crop production intensification approach under which farmers ensure the efficient use of inputs and labour on a small area of land in order to optimise its management.
“Livestock needs someone to keep a close eye on it.
You should be able to notice when an animal is sick and know when it should be dipped or due for its routine medications.
With goats, you have to pay close attention to them especially when they’re pregnant as they need assistance when giving birth otherwise the kid may die in-utero,” said Banda.
The pint-sized inmate who sounded enthusiastic about the animals he was tending said it was important to keep a healthy herd of cattle.
“I realise now that gold mining is not the only means one can use to survive.
There are many other ways one can make money.
Livestock production can be a lucrative business.
Animals provide meat, a protein which is necessary for good health,” said Banda.
He said it was very rare for cows to birth twins and he was proud this happened under his watch.
“They’re always telling me that the cow had twins because of how well I take care of the cattle.
It’s rare for cows to have twins and I feel really proud to have been part of the process,” said Banda.
Gwanda Prison Farm has grown from being a mini garden in 2019 to having a variety of crops on over five hectares of land to date.
Inmates are currently growing maize, sorghum, cowpeas, cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet potato, spinach and other leafy vegetables.
They are also into fodder production to ensure that they have access to nutritious supplementary feed for their livestock during the dry season.
Another inmate, Mvelo Msimanga (24) who is serving a one-year sentence for theft said working on the farm has made him realise the importance of farming.
“Where I come from, I would always see people tilling the land but I never realised how important farming is.
I’ve learnt so much about agriculture and I’m ready to manage my own farming project once I’m released from prison,” said Msimanga.
He said academics were not the only way one can become successful as farming can be lucrative.
“Young people need to learn to work with their hands.
If one is not gifted academically, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing else they can do.
Farming doesn’t require a formal education.
There are Agritex officers in our villages who can assist with crop production,” said Msimanga.
The inmates are housed at the farm with most nearing the end of their sentences ranging from murder to rape, theft and illegal gold mining among other offences.
Gwanda Prison Farm is also a beneficiary of Command Agriculture, an agricultural scheme aimed at ensuring food self-sufficiency that was introduced at the start of the 2016.
Under this programme, the prison farm received 11 heifers and one bull.
Gwanda Prison Farm now has a herd of 61 cattle, 165 goats, 15 pigs and seven turkeys.
Gwanda Prison Farm Manager Assistant Principal Correctional Officer Sethukile Ndlovu, who works with the inmates everyday said the main aim of the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service is to rehabilitate the inmates so that when they go back to their communities, they find something to do.
“We want to bridge the gap between the inmates and the community.
We’re doing this by giving them different agricultural projects to do which they can later do themselves,” she said.
Twenty-one inmates are working on the agricultural project.
Gwanda Prison Chief Correctional Officer Victoria Mabanzi said it was important to equip inmates with knowledge and skills so that they do not become repeat offenders.
“Inmates are here for us to correct them, not to punish them, that’s why you see us doing these rehabilitation programmes.
We have also been trying to make sure that they keep in touch with their relatives by availing a phone facility since they can’t visit due to Covid-19 containment efforts.
This is so that re-integration into the society is not difficult,” said Chief Correctional Officer Mabanzi.
She said when inmates arrive at the prison, they are asked what projects they would like to be part of.
“We ask this so that we try and bring out their hidden talents.
With some, they would not have had the opportunity or funding to learn while still on the outside.
We also have inmates doing other vocational programmes such as welding at Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Polytechnic.
When they’re done, they’re given certificates so that they can look for employment when they’re released.
We also talk to farm owners to employ some of our inmates doing agricultural projects once they’re released,” she said.
She encouraged communities to support inmates and treat them like any other person as this is important in the reformation process. – @Yolisswa