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Durban - KwaZulu-Natal’s correctional services boss has put his head on the block - promising to resign if any inmate were to escape from the country’s most secure prison.
KZN regional Correctional Services commissioner Mnikelwa Nxele said there was no way that any prisoner could escape because of the way the C-Max prison had been designed.
Serial rapist, and multiple escapee, Ananias Mathe, recently tried to get through the wall of his cell at Ebongweni Prison in Kokstad, but was thwarted when a guard saw him chipping away.
The prison is home to 906 of the most hardened criminals. Mathe is ranked as the 46th most high risk offender at the facility.
But he only got as far as making a 33cm cut in the wall, with a few “test” holes, before wardens caught on to his escape plot.
“We want to assure the community that no criminal will ever escape from this prison. The day a prisoner escapes will be the day I resign from the department,” Nxele told reporters, who were given a rare tour of the facility after Mathe’s escape bid.
Mathe, serving a 54-year jail term for crimes including rape, theft, robbery with aggravating circumstances and attempted murder, had tried to make his dash to freedom on September 24.
“He used pieces of metal which he had pulled out of the door frame in his cell,” Nxele said.
Mathe would then peel off paint from another part of the wall, mix it with his toothpaste to match the paint colour and patch up the cuts and holes he had made so that prison warders could not see what he was up to.
Nxele said that Mathe had tried to cut through different parts of the wall, including under his bed, but had been stymied by its strength.
Had he succeeded, he would have merely ended up in the corridor outside his cell and would have been spotted on the cameras, installed at every corner and monitored around the clock, Nxele said.
“The fact is that Mathe would not have made it anywhere without officials knowing.”
Nxele said C-Max was the only maximum prison of its kind in Southern Africa.
“Every prison that has a problem with any prisoner, they bring them here,” he said. “Everything ends here.”
“This is a special centre and (we) cannot let it be portrayed in any other way,” Nxele said in a bid to dispel claims that C-Max was not as secure as it was intended to be.
Kokstad area commissioner, James Baxter, said that with the kind of security at the prison, an inmate would have to have enough money to bribe at least 80 officials to get out.
“Even if he (Mathe) had managed to get out of the cell, he would not have managed to get through the over 10 doors as they are all (electronically) controlled and monitored by camera,” he said.
Baxter said that as a result of his attempt to escape, Mathe had since been placed in handcuffs during the day.
“He has been charged with malicious damage to property and has appeared in court for that charge,” he said, adding that he did not think that Mathe would give up trying to escape.
Further details of Mathe’s attempt to escape would be revealed once the investigation had been finalised, Nxele said.
“For now all we can say is that Mathe has been interviewed on this matter.”
A week after prison authorities were tipped off that a firearm had been smuggled into Westville Prison, there is still no sign of it.
Prison sources said on Monday morning that despite a lock-down of the Medium B Section and several raids, there had been no trace of the firearm.
Prisoners claimed that during the raids, they had been assaulted with batons, stripped naked and forced to flash themselves in front of other inmates.
Five bullets had been handed over by prisoners to the prison management on Tuesday.
Nxele, could not be reached for comment on this issue.