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Deneysville, Free State - Angry prisoners rioted at Groenpunt Prison near Deneysville in the Free State on Monday night. At least two warders were injured after inmates went on the rampage, setting fire to the administrative block and burning their mattresses and bedding.
The riot was sparked, according to sources in the cells, after prison management refused to take their grievances about prison health services and rehabilitation programmes seriously.
On Monday night, an inmate told The Star that the head of Groenpunt Prison laughed off their grievances before summoning the prison’s elite emergency support team, who then opened fire on the prisoners with rubber bullets and tasers.
The source said the inmates retaliated by breaking out floor tiles to pelt the warders.
By late last night, inmates were milling about in the exercise quadrangle after authorities cut the water and electricity supply as a precursor to restoring order.
“We pelted warders with stones and they were overpowered and forced to flee. They later emerged from the roof and that’s when one of them used live ammunition, leaving one of the prisoners with a bullet wound in his leg,” an inmate said.
“We have continued burning whatever we could find, including offices in the section, to create some light in the absence of electricity. It is chaotic down here and there is no water. Prisoners are struggling with burning eyes from smoke and teargas.”
By 10pm, an inmate claimed other prisoners were trying to perform rudimentary first aid on injured inmates.
“We’ve given him painkillers and used our shirts to cover the bleeding wound, because there is no help coming through. We don’t know what’s going to happen next,” another inmate said.
He added they were trying to get into contact with prison officials, without success, and that the arson was continuing.
“It is difficult for firefighters to gain access to where the fire is,” he said.
A team from The Star was chased away from the prison gates by heavily armed warders.
A rifle-wielding warder said no one was allowed near the prison grounds in case there was a breakout, in which case authorities would not be able to guarantee the safety of journalists.
Nothing could be seen from the gate. Warders said the revolt was occurring deep in the prison’s maximum security section.
An inmate said their main grievance was the prison hospital, which he described as “a place where prisoners go to die”.
He said: “A small number of prisoners leave the hospital alive because of poor service. There’s also not much of rehabilitation programmes, which is the core business of any prison,” he added.
“There’s also poor administration on inmates transfers, which has left many inmates stuck in maximum or in the same prison, when they could be transferred to another prison close to their families.
“The other thing is the tuckshop, which is expensive for inmates.”
Deputy regional commissioner Grace Molatedi confirmed the fire at Groenpunt last night.
“I can confirm offenders are burning the centre and that’s it’s quite serious,” she said.
High-ranking prison authorities were reportedly on their way to the prison. Shortly before midnight, inmates were still not back in their cells. Firefighters were still unable to gain access to the affected areas.
Prisoners could be heard singing in the background during the last call made by one of the inmates.
“We haven’t heard anything from the prison authorities. We’re hoping they’d stop shooting and communicate with us by promising to attend to our grievances.
“We’ll continue setting fires until they start communicating with us, and we’re hoping for good intentions from them,” an inmate said.