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Johannesburg - The inhumane conditions at Groenpunt Prison were the reason for a riot that injured dozens of inmates and nine warders.
These were the findings by South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) chairman Mabedle Mushwana, whose report on the organisation’s investigation into the violence at the prison in January this year was released on Wednesday .
It says the riot at Groenpunt Prison in the Free State was a result of inmates failing to receive proper medical care, quality food and other basic human rights.
And those in charge of running the prison were so poor at addressing their prisoners’ complaints that the negligence triggered a wave of violence that injured 59 people.
Meanwhile, the organisation has said police will not investigate the death of an inmate witnessed by reporters from The Star just one week later.
On the evening of January 7, about 300 prisoners broke open the grille locks of their cells and set administration offices, the prison’s tuckshop and their own mattresses alight during a rampage that left 50 prisoners and nine warders injured.
The authorities tried to stop the riot by cutting power and water to the facility, but it took several hours before the prison could be brought under control.
Prisoners told The Star at the time that Groenpunt was so poorly run that they were unable to receive medical or rehabilitative treatment.
The riot was sparked after management allegedly laughed off complaints from prisoners.
But the SAHRC’s report reveals that the food, healthcare and rehabilitation problems at the prison were just the tip of the iceberg.
A shortage of staff at the prison was never addressed, the medical care and accommodation were inadequate; and exercise and reading materials were extremely limited.
“(The Department of Correctional Services) thus violated inmates’ rights to conditions of detention that are consistent with human dignity,” wrote Mushwana.
The report accuses prison authorities of failing to respond to complaints and grievances from inmates, “and this ultimately led to the riots that took place”.
Just days after the riots, the media were invited by the portfolio committee to visit the grounds. But during the visit, The Star reporter Kutlwano Olifant and photographer Itumeleng English witnessed a group of warders beating an inmate, Kgothatso Mokhele, so badly that he later died from his injuries. Correctional Services claimed that the prisoner had tried to stab a warder.
After the incident, Correctional Services personnel confiscated The Star reporters’ equipment, and the journalists were detained for more than an hour as their photographs of the incident were deleted.
The SAHRC told The Star on Wednesday it would not probe the deadly beating as the police were currently conducting their own investigation into the killing.
The commission has made several recommendations to improve the living conditions at the prison to prevent further violence.
It ordered the Department of Correctional Services to ensure within the next 12 months that inmates had access to rapid health treatment and social and psychological services.
“The commission shall regularly monitor the implementation of these recommendations, and, to this end, the head of the prison must submit written progress reports at least every six months until all recommendations are implemented,” said SAHRC spokesman Isaac Mangena.
The deputy regional commissioner for Correctional Services in the Northern Cape and the Free State, Grace Molatedi, told The Star they would be scrutinising the report to determine whether an appeal was necessary.
However, she revealed that the internal investigation into Mokhele’s death by her warders had already been finalised – but that they were awaiting a decision from “an authorised person” before revealing its findings.
Meanwhile, Free State SAPS spokeswoman Sergeant Sellwane Mapamela said investigators were still following leads on the incident and had yet to complete their investigation.