There is a shaming paradox to Zimbabwean criminality. Music piracy is exposing an ugly caricature of the country’s justice system as a hot gospel musical production by inmates in Manicaland is grossing thousands for pirates across the Zimbabwe.
Manicaland School of Arts, popularly known as MANSA collaborated with a leading gospel artist Blessing Shumba to produce an 8-track album called ‘Munamato wangu (My prayer)’ that is being passed around as his touching off huge sales. It is even considered as an improvement to Shumba’s previous works.
The confusion on whose album it is while being worsened by pirates who want to exploit Shumba’s popularity many a genuinely confused as Buhle, the group’s lead vocalist’s voice is similar to Shumba’s. Interestingly Buhle only discovered his singing talent while in prison.
The irony is the album was recorded under a novel reintegration program that aims at giving the inmates both financial resources to support their families and also give them a vocation to pursue upon their release.
Liberty Mhlanga the acting Manicaland Region Public Relations Officer described piracy as “a creature that is fighting all artists. We are also not being spared.” He said another inmate band Echoes Arts Group from Mutare Farm Prison has also released an album which has also fallen victim to piracy.
Mhlanga said while the projects were meant to improve the lot of the inmates this was being hampered by the out of control piracy business effectively meaning it’s the free that are stilling from the imprisoned who are under rehabilitation.
He however said they find solace in that the works of the prisoners have been well received meaning their productions have managed in under 2 years since the inception of the projects to match the works of professional musicians in the country.
“We are like a school, we will keep teaching them even if there is no monetary gain. Once they have learnt the skills we would have made an achievement,” Mlhanga said but admitting that they are worried about piracy as they are not getting fair returns for the investments they would have made in the production of the music.
Even with one of the songs asking for forgiveness for the crimes they committed and asking for acceptance by their friends, relatives and communities after prison as they are now reformed and equipped with new social and vocational skills it appears their fans are not playing a positive role in their rehabilitation.
Mhlanga said the new reintegration and rehabilitation of inmates was informed by the understanding that “the way you rehabilitate a person determines the success or failure of the process” and they are looking for everyone’s involvement. He said they have opened their prisons to everyone who would want to give ideas on how they can better manage the process as well as those who feel they have skills and information to share with prisoners.
Zebron Mahwekwe, a local wood and stone sculptor has also been supporting the Zimbabwe Prison Services initiative by teaching inmates the art of sculpturing. “They need people with ideas to work with them so that they have a start after prison,” he said.
Mhlanga said many have found life after prison because of the initiative as they are getting a lot of support from the community.
Of note he identified Border Timbers, a timber producer and processor which has agreed to take in prisoners as trainees in various vocational fields and are even receiving allowances which are enabling them to even pay school fees and rentals for their families while in prison.
Asked if this was not tantamount to releasing them he said walls are not the ones that protect prisoners adding that they vet the inmates and will have prison guards in close watch as they “can trust but not release prisoners. We do not have that mandate.”
Matan Construction Unit, he said, is another company that is supporting the program by tacking on board inmates who would want to pursue careers in the construction industry.
Three female inmates to include a former magistrate are currently also attached at an uptown hair saloon in Mutare – Hairport, he said.
The saloon’s manageress Catherine Mandisodza said they were moved to help the inmates after a prison visit and having been allowed to interact with inmates and hearing their life stories.
She said some people end up in prison due to criminal intent or mistakes and the support her organisation was giving is meant to give them more options after doing time in prison.
Mandisodza said they will work with the current batch of prisoners until they are satisfied of their competence. Clarifying on how they accommodate them in light of most of their clients’ long term relationships with individual hairdressers she said they would just assist others and learn by demonstration while female prison officers come in with their own kits and chemicals to have their hair done for free by the inmates as well as their own hair.
The former magistrate, she said, was however doing nails but is being supported by family and clients for the materials and chemicals she uses.
Mhlanga also highlighted that as part of social rehabilitation they also have soccer teams under their Prison Inmates Football Association (PIFA) which plays in tournaments like the Independence and Heroes. The inmates also play with other social clubs outside PIFA such as the Eastern Scribes Social Soccer Team, for journalists in Manicaland.
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