Zelda Venter, Tebogo Monama and Valeska Abreu
Pretoria - The re-arrest of Frikkie du Preez and Christoff Becker, two of the Waterkloof four, has highlighted corruption in South African prisons – almost anything is available for those who can afford to pay.
Preferential treatment continues to be given to wealthy offenders, the Corrections and Civil Rights Movement (CCRM) said on Monday. “This kind of special treatment for certain offenders who are connected politically, socially, economically or rich… is absolutely nothing new,” CCRM president Golden Miles Bhudu said.
Du Preez and Becker were re-arrested on Sunday just days after being released on parole.
Correctional Services has launched an investigation into how the pair came to allegedly have a cellphone and alcohol in their cell – which is illegal.
Becker, Du Preez, Gert van Schalkwyk and Reinach Tiedt were released last Tuesday after being jailed for beating a homeless man to death in Pretoria in 2001.
Du Preez and Becker’s alleged antics in jail just days before being released ended up on YouTube, sparking an outcry.
Olaf de Meyer, lawyer for Du Preez, is in negotiations with the department. “They have 72 hours in which to hold the two and we will then decide on the way forward.
“We have no idea what the charges, if any, are. And we know nothing about the claims against the two – only what we read in the newspapers,” said De Meyer. In his opinion, they had not broken any of their parole conditions, he said.
But Pretoria lawyer Julian Knight, said, in theory, the pair could face charges for transgressing the rules of the department while incarcerated. But it had to be proved that the pair were in fact drinking alcohol while in prison.
“The department is entitled to revoke their parole if it can be proved that they indeed transgressed the rules, which include that they allegedly had a cellphone with which they made the video.”
Knight said in his opinion it would be an internal matter which would not result in criminal charges.
Correctional Services spokes-man Manelisi Wolela would not comment further on the matter as an investigation was under way.
The department aimed to conclude the investigation within 72 hours, but owing to the complexity of the matter, this time limit could be extended, he said. “We have said enough for now. An investigation is under way. Once it’s been completed we will issue a statement.”
Bhudu said several high-ranking officials at the Department of Correctional Services should be fired. “The time is now to send a clear and unambiguous (message) that the rot that starts from the head must be smacked there.”
The CCRM is a political party, registered in 2010, and Bhudu has been a long-time campaigner for prisoners’ rights under the banner of the SA Prisoners’ Organisation for Human Rights.
The portfolio committee on correctional services and the DA are among those who welcomed the investigation.
“Such swift action gives us hope that there is a willingness within the department to deal with the many problems facing the department and correctional facilities,” chairman of the portfolio committee, Vincent Smith, said.
The committee remained concerned about the ease with which banned substances made their way into correctional facilities.
“Long-term solutions are needed to address this problem as it undermines the objective of correctional facilities,” said Smith.
DA spokesman on Correctional Services James Selfe said: “Preferential treatment and contraband are perpetual problems in our correctional centres.
“We need higher security to combat them. It is high time that the department takes a tougher stance on correctional centre security and corruption.”
The removal of corrupt officials from the department should be a top priority and the disciplinary system must be more effective and efficient, Selfe said. There were no immediate consequences for suspended officials at present and some remained on suspension for months, even years, he said.
The deputy chief executive of the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders, Celia Dawson, said the video did not reflect how most prisoners lived.
“Conditions in prison for the majority of inmates are at best stark, and miserable, with nothing akin to comfort, with overcrowding and poor sanitation rife. This case sets back public support for rehabilitation by decades, as it reinforces a myth among the public that jail conditions are soft and cushy and should be replaced by ‘hard labour’ and slave conditions.”
Dawson said there was “economic apartheid” in prisons. People with money can expect better treatment “and the hardships of imprisonment to be cushioned by greedy jailers bringing in the good things of life to ameliorate the harshness. That jailers might be lowly paid and subject to poor working conditions is no excuse for their corrupt activities.”
Meanwhile, Gert van Schalkwyk and Reinach Tiedt – the other two members of the Waterkloof four – have distanced themselves from their former school friends, saying they have no knowledge of any of the allegations pertaining to their alleged activities.
In a statement issued by their lawyer Jenny Brewis, they said they had no contact with the pair after their transfer to Zonderwater Correctional Centre in December 2008.
The first time the Waterkloof four met again in more than five years was at Correctional Services last Tuesday when they were released on parole.
They said neither they nor their families would give interviews as it was a condition of their parole.
“Any publicity in any form linking or suggesting any involvement of Messrs Tiedt and Van Schalkwyk in the alleged incident of Mr Becker and Mr du Preez will lead to legal action,” Brewis’s statement read.
They would co-operate with the Department of Correctional Services as long as they were on parole and would abide by the conditions imposed on them.