Zimbabwe cash crisis sees victims drive accused to trial

Zimbabweans have given a new twist to the notion of taking justice into your own hands as victims of crime have been forced to drive the accused to court in their own vehicles.

The move owes nothing to trendy ideas of perpetrators facing up to their crimes and everything to a shortage of fuel at the prison service.

After repeated delays at a number of trials in the capital Harare, members of the public were invited to use their own vehicles to ferry prisoners from remand centres to the courts.

"All our vehicles are off the road," Chief Prison Officer Priscilla Mtembo told The Herald newspaper. "We are actually failing to service courts in Harare but we are attending to the problem."

One robbery victim told the paper that he had then driven the accused, together with prison officers, to court and would ferry them back again after the hearing.

"I was tired of coming to court and being told the same story that the court had to postpone the matter because the accused persons were not brought to court by the Zimbabwe Prison Service," he said.

The lack of resources in the prison service is a reminder of the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe which has been undergoing a fragile recovery in the past year. A decade-long descent into economic oblivion and chronic underinvestment in public services has left the country's hospitals, schools and prisons in a squalid state.

About 1,000 prisoners, many of them living in overcrowded, filthy cells, died in the first six months of 2009. But since Medecins Sans Frontieres began to work in Zimbabwean prisons in February last year, conditions have markedly improved.