Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Wednesday, 1 April 2009 15:47 UK

Zimbabwe 'seeks jail crisis aid'

A prisoner in Zimbabwe. Photo: January 2009
The film says that prisoners suffer from starvation and diseases

Zimbabwe has appealed for help for its prisoners after a documentary exposed horrific conditions in the country's jails, the film's producer says.

Shot secretly over months, a South African TV documentary reveals how dozens of inmates in Zimbabwe die every day of starvation and disease.

Several of those featured in the film, which was aired on Tuesday, have died.

The film's producer, Johann Abrahams, told the BBC the Zimbabwean government was now "appealing for donor aid".

"They're looking for... humanitarian aid to help them with food, clothing, legal assistance for prisoners, all of that," said Mr Abrahams, the executive producer of the South African Broadcasting Corporation's Hell Hole documentary.

"They just can't cope. They acknowledge that they have a serious problem and obviously it's the previous government [of President Robert Mugabe] that should be answering these questions," Mr Abrahams said.

Zimbabwe's new national unity government has so far not officially commented on the film.

Meanwhile, in his first newspaper article since taking office, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai urged donors and trading partners to back the government.

He said that in the six weeks since taking office there had been "small but significant progress".

'Rotting bodies'

In the SABC documentary, prisoners described how the sick and healthy slept side-by-side in unhygienic and overcrowded cells.

This new political dispensation has delivered hope to a country devoid of optimism or expectation
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai

The film also showed how prison staff had converted cells to "hospital wards" for the dying.

It said makeshift mortuaries had been built within the prison grounds, where bodies of inmates "rotted on the floor with maggots moving all around".

Inmates in the documentary were shown suffering from starvation and diseases as a result of living in unhygienic conditions in overcrowded prisons.

Last year, the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender said in a report that there were 55 prisons in Zimbabwe.

It said the prisons had the capacity to hold some 17,000 inmates, but it was estimated that more than 35,000 people were behind bars.

'Delivered hope'

Mr Tsvangirai said the power-sharing government was not perfect, but it was making progress.

"We have started paying civil servants a monthly allowance to allow the public sector to begin working again and provide an essential stimulus to the economy," he wrote in the UK's Times newspaper.

"We have overseen the opening of hospitals and schools, the taming of hyperinflation, the lowering of prices of basic commodities and the rationalisation of utility tariffs.

"Most importantly, this new political dispensation has delivered hope to a country devoid of optimism or expectation."

He said Zimbabwe looked forward to moving beyond merely being a beneficiary of emergency aid to a time when it could be viewed as an investment opportunity to the West.

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