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How innocent Zimbabweans end up in UK jails

Praying Madzibaba driver taken to mental institution ignorant cops

LONDON: Many Zimbabweans see their dreams of prosperity tumbling down like a sand castle as they are bundled into police cars and eventually taken to prison for being Zimbabwean. In many British prisons, there are more than 10 Zimbabweans doing time for very ‘serious’ offences which will not otherwise be a crime back home.

Some are found on the wrong side of the law for doing what every Zimbabwean would naturally do back home. As a result, there is a rise of Zimbabweans in British jails.

One possible explanation for the rise is that there are now more Zimbabweans in the general population. But the percentage rise in Zimbabwean prison inmates has been far greater than the Zimbabwean population increase: Zimbabwean inmates now account for four percent of those behind bars. The media focus on illegal immigrants might lead some to think that the Zimbabwean prisoner population increase is linked to convictions of immigration-related matters.

But the figures don’t bear that out either. The Ministry of Justice data shows that between October 2012 and January 2015, there were 20 Zimbabweans out of 178 foreign prisoners who had been jailed for none-immigration matters. A Ministry of Justice analysis in 2013 suggested that a number of Zimbabweans had been arrested for white collar crimes.

This idea of wanting to know more than you do has landed many in prison. Toga Kawadza, not his real name, was in a shopping mall on a Sunday afternoon. A young girl of six smiled and waved at him. He smiled back and started playing with the child like every other person would do. The mother turned and saw this huge black man smiling to her child. She screamed and in no time, Toga was floored by security officers.

The next thing he was in a police station being charged with attempted kidnapping and child abuse. He thought it was a joke, but his world collapsed when he was hauled before the courts and convicted. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and placed on the sex offenders register for life. His pleas that he was just being friendly and humane fell on deaf ears. His colour did not help at all and if ever he comes out alive, he will be deported. His crime was sheer innocence. When he tried to be humane, he was arrested.

This was followed by one ‘Original Tonde’ who got lost in Luton. He stopped to ask for directions. Two small boys offered to take him where he was going, so they jumped in his car and showed him the place. As a true Zimbabwean, he gave the children 10 pounds as a thank you. Two days later, he was woken up by dozens of police turning his house upside down. They arrested him for being a paedoph*le. They brought the 10 pounds he gave the two boys as exhibit. In no time, he was facing an all-white jury and was locked up for 15 years.

Negative stereotyping is one of the reasons for the disproportionate representation of Zimbabweans at all stages of the criminal justice system.

They are more likely to be stopped and searched, more likely to plead not guilty and more likely to be tried. These disparities are often part of a complex mix of educational, employment, health and social inequalities that have characterised many of their lives. It should be noted that policy-makers and politicians haven’t ‘fully grasped’ the impact of ‘negative stereotyping’ and ‘cultural difference’.

Most of the Zimbabwean prisoners have said that they are treated differently because of their race, ethnicity or culture. Blacks are stereotyped as drug dealers while all Muslims are treated as terrorists. Could it be that negative stereotypes and institutional discrimination, or sheer innocence as it’s referred to, is fuelling the increase of Zimbabweans being arrested? Complacency in Zimbabweans abroad has made the British government utterly clueless about the growing Zimbabwean population.

It should be noted that some Zimbabweans are in UK riding on South African, Malawian or Botswana passports. So getting the real figures of Zimbabweans in prisons is a nightmare.

The Ministry of Justice says the government is committed to ensuring the criminal justice system is ‘fair, inclusive and impartial, and represents and serves the whole community’.

In a statement, the department says: “Each prison has a multi-faith chaplaincy team to meet the religious and pastoral needs of all faiths, including Muslims, and we expect every prisoner to engage in purposeful work and rehabilitation to give them the opportunity to turn away from crime for good.”

But the issue is Zimbabweans face adaptation challenges and are more often blinded by their culture and are prone to offend.

Few would disagree with that. In fact, the re-offending rates of Zimbabwean prisoners are already substantially lower than others.

But it seems we’ve only just started understanding the reasons so many are locked up in the first place.

‘Madzibaba Herbert’ was employed as a bus driver in Croydon. He was told by the ‘spirit’ at masowe that he needs to carry some holy stones and a knife to attack the evil spirits.

During his lunch hour, he sat in his bus and prayed. After his prayer, he put his stones on the dashboard and started waving his knife in the air in a gesture of attacking the evil spirits. A workmate called the police.

Herbert was arrested when he explained that the spirit gave him the holy stones and the holy knife. The police referred him to a mental health institution.

This is technically known as sectioning. The more he tried to explain, the more he was found to be insane. Two years ago, two Zimbabwean nurses, husband and wife, were convicted of child abuse and neglect after they made their child a vegetarian.

Following religious lines would not normally be a crime in Zimbabwe unless there is a harm to the child. Dozens of men and women are languishing in prisons for disciplining their children. Sheer innocence has led many Zimbabweans to British prisons. masimba mavaza