ZIMBABWE – A Chinese company plans to buy several prison complexes located close to central business districts in cities and towns in Zimbabwe and convert them into China City malls, as the Far Eastern nation continues to entrench its domination in the country, highly placed sources have said.
Senior officials in the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs and at Zimbabwe Prison Services (ZPS) last week said negotiations for the acquisition of the Harare Central and Remand Prisons and staff houses close to Newlands were at an advanced stage, while talks for the takeover of other properties were still to begin.
An official said the Chinese wanted to raze the prison complex and staff houses and develop China City with several shops, a hotel, wholesale shops, a market and restaurants, in a deal said to be worth millions of dollars.
“We have been told to prepare to relocate to Chikurubi Prison Farm, where the Chinese will build and complete a new prison within six months of signing the agreement,” said a ZPS source.
Under the proposed deal, the remand prison will be relocated to Chikurubi Prison, while the Central prison will be moved to a new site in Marondera, 70km away, the ZPS official said.
A ministry of Justice official said although the Chinese said they would build China City at the Harare Central Prison site, initial indications were that the company wanted to set up a factory to manufacture military hardware.
Permanent Secretary for Justice, David Mangota, confirmed to The Standard in Kadoma on Friday that indeed a Chinese company had approached the government through the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development with a proposal to buy Harare Central Prison.
“They approached us wanting to develop that area as it is close to the CBD, which goes hand in hand with the nature of business they want to go into,” he said.
“Our response was that we cannot refuse with that land, but we have given them conditions which they have to meet first,” he said.
Mangota said the ministry wanted the Chinese to first build a new prison in Marondera, incorporating a Women’s open prison, accommodation for staff and a workshop.
He said the model would be copied in other cities, where prisons are located in the CBD.
Mangota could not name the Chinese company involved in the deal or reveal exactly what they really wanted to do with the land.
ZPS sources said it was suspected that the Chiadzwa-based diamond mining company, Anjin, was behind the deal.
But Anjin company secretary, Charles Tarumbwa, professed total ignorance of the deal.
“Maybe it’s another Chinese company and not Anjin,” he said.
“The only development we are doing in Harare is the hotel project in Belvedere, close to the National Sports Stadium.”
ZPS spokesperson, Elizabeth Banda, said there was no official position yet, as the matter needed the input of both the ministry of Public Works and that of Local Government.
“Nothing has exchanged hands yet as there is need for input from other relevant departments,” she said.
“Modernisation of our prisons has always been our dream. We always look forward to the improvement of our prisons and staff accommodation. This motivates us, as we will be working in a safe and healthy environment.”
Banda said although the current prison population was 14 000 against a capacity of 17 000, the condition of the correctional facilities needed a major revamp.
The Harare Central Prison complex stretches from Enterprise Road and borders KG6 Barracks, and ZRP’s Tomilson’s and Morris Depots.
It houses more than 4 000 inmates and over 2 000 families.
Chinese investments raising eyebrows
Chinese investments throughout the country continue to be a cause of raised eyebrows, amid suspicions they could be mostly financed from proceeds from the mining of diamonds in Marange.
The Chinese provided loans for the construction of the National Defence College and are involved in a number of other infrastructure development projects which are said to be funded from diamond proceeds.
Minister of Local Government, Urban and Rural Development, Ignatius Chombo, could not be reached for comment. – The Standard