Cape Town - Plans to dispose of Pollsmoor and Leeuwkop prisons were prompted by security concerns, limited land, and a population of bullfrogs, according to Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha.
In a written reply to a parliamentary question on Friday, he spelled out why his department is seeking to “exchange” the two prisons, one in Cape Town, the other in Midrand, for new ones.
Masutha said the public works department had first been asked to look into the matter seven years ago, and a similar request was made late last year.
“The request was made due to the two centres being located within increasingly urbanised developments, the residents of which have expressed concerns around the security of the centres.”
On the renowned Pollsmoor Prison, which in the 1980s held former president Nelson Mandela and other senior African National Congress leaders, he said the department had considered expanding the 2.5 square kilometre facility.
“But land area is limited on the site and the buildings are old, which will be costly to maintain and repair.”
A feasibility study on expanding Leeuwkop Prison had also been carried out.
“But the presence of an endangered species of bullfrog on the [Leeuwkop] site created an environmental challenge, thereby rendering the expansions impossible.”
Masutha said an “exchange” of the two properties could only happen if the public works department agreed to the transaction, which it had not yet done.
If the go-ahead was given, the inmates currently housed at these two centres would be housed in the correctional centre that would form part of the exchange.
Last month, public works media and stakeholder relations director Thami Mchunu said a feasibility study into disposing of the two properties would be finalised this (2014/15) financial year.
“Currently, the department is conducting feasibility studies to inform the best and highest use of the subject properties,” he said at the time.
Mchunu also confirmed that the prisons were state-owned.
“The title owner of the land and buildings is the Republic of South Africa under the custodianship of the department of public works,” he said.
Land around the two prison complexes, especially Pollsmoor, is in short supply and fetching high prices on sale.
In his reply, Masutha said the purpose of the studies was to assess the market for interest within the private sector for developing the potential of the land in the further urbanisation strategies, as well as determine the replacement values of the two correctional centres.
The parliamentary question was posed by Democratic Alliance MP James Selfe.