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Durban - Ananias Mathe peeps through the slot of his new prison cell to see what the fuss is all about.
His eyes move around slowly as he carefully studies the faces of the reporters and correctional services officials who are inspecting his old cell, next door. It is the cell from which he had tried to escape by cutting through the wall with makeshift tools two weeks ago.
When asked how he was doing, Mathe smiles and responds: “I am not doing okay.” When asked what the matter is, he simply says: “I want to get out of here.”
KwaZulu-Natal’s Correctional Services regional commissioner Mnikelwa Nxele, however, is confident that the R450 million eBongweni C-Max facility in Kokstad is the most secure of its kind.
With all bags and cellphones left outside the prison, we were met at the entrance to the imposing facility by area commissioner James Baxter and encouraged to breathe in all the fresh air we could before entering the prison.
We were all subjected to a body search and scanner check. Then followed a 450m walk through a labyrinth of passages where more than 10 electronically-controlled sliding doors eventually lead into the block of cells.
This is the home to South Africa’s most dangerous criminals.
Baxter pointed out the countless number of cameras along the way before he ushered the media into a 3mx4m pentagon-shaped cell where Mathe had been placed.
The unoccupied cell had a bed opposite the door under which a pair of red prison overalls, a folded slate grey blanket and a blue face cloth had been stacked.
Next to the bed was a stainless steel toilet and basin. Adjacent to it was a 33cm-long crack, one end cut right through, that Mathe had hoped would have led to his freedom, had a patrolling warden not seen him on September 24.
But had Mathe managed to cut through the wall, he would have landed in the passage outside, right in the path of the cameras that are monitored 24 hours a day.
And then he would have had to make it through the 10 doors.
“In short, he had no chance of escaping from here, as you have seen for yourselves,” Baxter said.
The state-of-the-art maximum-security correctional facility, boasting an unblemished escape record since it was built in 2002, caters for male inmates with behavioral problems and those identified as high security risk from all over SA.
They include serial killers, serial rapists, cash-in-transit and other armed robbers, terrorists, notorious escapees and members of organised crime syndicates.
The centre has an integrated security system that includes pneumatic sliding doors, closed circuit television (CCTV) and a three-level control system: a centre control room, a movement control room and section control room.
Even if a prisoner had to bypass all that, the electrified security fence with detection and alarm systems and fully integrated CCTV cameras outside would stop him in his tracks.
“Access control to the centre is also managed and monitored with a turnstile system supported by a swipe card and biometric finger print reading system, walk through metal detectors and x-ray scanners,” Baxter said.
Inmates, he said, were not allowed to come into contact with one other to avoid the formation of gangs.
“They spend 23 hours in the cell and are allowed one hour out in the courtyard. They also spend that hour on their own,” he said. Inmates are moved around to avoid them getting accustomed to one cell.
Notorious KZN serial killer Thozamile Taki, who raped and killed 13 women, is also at the C-Max prison.
When the media were taken to his cell, Taki questioned why there were so many people around.
He refused to say how he was doing. He said he did not trust Nxele.
Taki, Nxele said, liked to play mind games.
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