Zimbabwe parks authority donates quarter ton of bush meat to calm restive prisoners

A quarter ton of meat from wild animals could be just the ticket to ending the unrest in Zimbabwe's Chikurubi maximum security prison where inmates have been rioting over their meatless diet.

Over the weekend, Zimbabwe's National Parks and Wildlife Authority donated 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of bush meat for the 4,600 inmates whose diet has consisted of only porridge and cabbage despite regulations that they should receive meat at least three times a week.

Prison food woes is more evidence of a debilitating economic downturn that has left the Zimbabwean government struggling to meet its obligations, including paying civil servants on time. In March, riot police had to use water cannons against university students whose own food protests caused classes to be suspended for a time.

Close to a thousand prisoners rioted in February and then more seriously in March over the lack of meat for the last three years. Guards opened fire on the inmates who rioted after they refused to eat their cabbage lunch. Five people were killed.

Prison officials described the riot, in which prisoners set fire to blankets, newspapers and even the roof, as an escape attempt and later tried nine alleged leaders. During their trials, however, the prisoners maintained they were protesting the lack of meat.

"For the past three years, the prisoners did not eat any meat. The first meat that the prisoners ate was (when) the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority provided us with 250 kilograms of meat," prison official Gilbert Marange told members of the parliamentary committee on defense, home affairs and security who toured the prison on Monday.

Another senior prisons official, George Denya, told the same group of MPs that after the February riot, there was concern that "if the situation did not improve, something worse was going to happen." His remarks were reported Tuesday in the Zimbabwe daily The Herald.

The National Parks Authority was not available to answer questions about the type of meat donated to the prison. As part of its activities, it tracks poachers and recovers animal carcasses left by hunters after their horns or tusks have been taken.

Animals killed by villagers also often end up in the hands of the parks authority.