A spontaneous nationwide strike by prison wardens yesterday paralysed Prison services across the country as the servicemen blocked entrance and barricaded roads demanding pay hike.
Prison strikes are rare in the country and yesterday’s action came unexpectedly. At Maula Prison warders sealed the gates and formed a human chain at the gate and barricaded roads with tree branches.
In Zomba, the wardens sealed the main entrance into the Prison Headquarters that also leads to the Zomba Maximum Prison, demanding government to harmonise salary disparities the institution has over the Malawi Police Service.
Malawi Prison Service (MPS) spokesperson Smart Maliro downplayed the action, saying it was taken by a small group of wardens and was mainly confined to the three major prisons, Chichiri, Maula and Zomba.
“It is just a small misunderstanding that started after people allegedly heard that the Malawi Police Service is due to raise salaries for its officers.
“But the situation has largely been contained and we expect situation to be normal soon,” said Maliro.
But as of noon yesterday, the situation was still unchanged at Maula and Zomba prisons.
A Weekend Nation crew found a group women who had come to visit inmates and provide food to relatives, were stranded outside the prisons.
“We have been here the whole day, the warders are angry and are beating anyone who come close to them,” said a woman clutching a basket of food containers at Maula Prison.
A memo circulating within the prison service leaked yesterday, seen by Weekend Nation, cited the salary disparities with the police service as main ground for the protest.
The memo further detailed the course of the strike, calling for blockage of any new inmates from police, halting of inmates access to courts or police access, halt of prison visits, among others.
In Zomba, striking warders who opted for anonymity, said the warders’ have learnt with concern that government has ‘secretly’ revised salaries as well as house and risk allowances for the police officers and overlooked the prison warders regardless of the two departments being mothered under one umbrella Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security.
A warder said, just like the police officers, the warders are exposed to so many risks due to their interaction with inmates which exposes them to diseases and injuries when inmates’ riots.
“We, therefore, see no reason for such disparities as wardens have no other benefits apart from their meagre salaries,” said the warder.
In demonstration to express their anger, the warders denied police prosecutors entry to take suspects to Zomba High Court for hearing of their cases scheduled on the day.