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A tragedy of lives: women in prison in Zimbabwe.

As I leafed through this record of ordinary women who had ended up in the prison cells of an African country, a vision floated into my mind.


It was a vision of jars and jars of dead and dying roses in an airless room that had its windows tightly shut on a dull, gloomy day. But suddenly, a side window is opened and one by one, the flowers begin to lift their droopy heads in their water jars, their petals opening to the friendly sunshine bursting through on the other side. A peep at the sky shows the clouds lifting high as if being swept away by an unseen power ... those were the feelings brought by listening to stories of women who were in or had been inside various prisons in Zimbabwe ... Chikurubi, Bindura. Marondera and others in the cities of Harare, Mutare and Bulawayo.

Some women, like the roses, managed to lift their heads after prison and live again, but others struggled along in murky waters, only to die in misery after what the law had intended would be a sentence to 'correct' their lives.

Petty theft prisoners, fraud cases, drug cases, domestic violence, this book is a tale of the woes of women prisoners caught in a society where women are merely tolerated.

As one reads, one is caught thinking that if only polygamy did not exist, if only men did not have to pay lobola, if only African women were more forceful, if only Africans did not believe in such big families, if only African men were brought up with different values, if only ... it is an endless wish list.

The writers have shown the tragic experiences of women who grew up in different environments, some harsh, others moderate, and still others in relatively good family environments, but as a poet once said, "fate and fortune happen to all (wo)men."

One is made to feel that these women could have lived different lives, if only they did not find themselves in the circumstances which led to their time in prison. The book presents the stark choices that some women have to make in their poverty-ridden communities in Southern Africa. To raise your own child and starve or to work in the city and let your mother raise your child in the village; to ignore the 10-plus brothers and sisters you have or to pick three who you can help support with school fees; to live in the city and ignore your parents who are starving in the village back home, or to send a portion of your paycheck to them every month, denying yourself and your children certain needs; to sell your body on the streets for higher wages, or to sell groundnuts at the open market, making enough money for one meal at the end of the day; to steal, to kill and risk imprisonment, or to die ...

These stories, collected by members of Zimbabwe Women Writers, edited by Chiedza Musengezi and Irene Staunton, and published in 2003 by Weaver Press, are worth exploring on a serious read that will have you praying that you or anyone you know should never have to make these stark and desperate choices that certainly lead to tragedy.

The stories are supplemented by essays written by experts in law, gender, and prison reform. According to staff of Zimbabwe Women Writers, the challenges presented by this publication have already led to prison reform in some parts of the country.

Reviewed by Chilombo Mwondela
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Author:Mwondela, Chilombo
Publication:Sister Namibia
Geographic Code:6ZIMB
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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