HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's prisons that have long coped with food shortages have a new problem: Not enough plates to serve the scarce food.
Hard-core criminals such as murderers and rapists are worst hit, said Zimbabwe Prisons Service spokeswoman Elizabeth Banda. At some maximum security prisons, there is just one plate for up to 40 inmates, she said.
"It is a desperate situation," Banda told The Associated Press. She said the prison service was not able to buy new plates this year because of lack of money.
Zimbabwe's prisons are woefully funded, with prisoners, former prisoners and even prison officials often complaining about food shortages. A riot broke out at the country's largest maximum security prison, Chikurubi prison in Harare, in March over food shortages, in which prison officers shot dead five prisoners in the melee.
A senior prison official Gilbert Marange later told members of a parliamentary committee in June that prisoners had gone for three years without eating meat until the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority of Zimbabwe donated 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of meat.
Prisons spokeswoman Banda said that even when food is available prison wardens still have problems because of the shortage of plates.
"The crime trends in Zimbabwe are such that many people who are jailed are hard-core criminals. This has resulted in overpopulation at maximum security prisons and it is taking a toll on our plates," said Banda. Zimbabwe has about 19,000 prisoners although the prisons capacity is just 17,000, said Banda.
Inmates lucky to have relatives and friends who bring food from outside the prison are being advised to keep the containers for future use during prison meal times, said Banda.
"We are also counting on well-wishers to donate plates to the prisons," she said.