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Cape Town - There has been a rise of more than 40 percent in the number of reported prison rapes and sexual assaults in the past year, according to Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele.
In a written reply to a parliamentary question, he said 643 inmates had "reported being raped/sexually assaulted" over the past three years.
In 2010/11, the total was 221; in 2011/12, it was 175; and, last year (2012/13), the total surged to 247 reported cases - 41 percent more than the year before.
The Democratic Alliance said the latest figures were a "shocking revelation" and a stark illustration of the prevalence of sexual violence in the country's prison system.
DA MP James Selfe said in a statement on Wednesday that in 2011, he successfully lobbied for amendments to legislation to ensure sentenced offenders were assessed to determine their "vulnerability to sexual violence and exploitation" and accommodated in prison accordingly.
"Earlier this year, I submitted parliamentary questions to determine whether the department of correctional services was implementing this amendment, but have not yet received a reply."
Selfe said he would now submit more questions to determine how many of the reported prison rape incidents were actually investigated.
"Given the high levels of victim intimidation and coerced silence in prisons, these figures are probably an underestimation."
According to the 2006 Jali Commission of Inquiry report, rape was rife in South Africa's prisons.
"We hope these new figures will force the 1/8department 3/8 to take this issue seriously and finally inspire some action," he said.
Correctional services spokesman Logan Maistry said the figure of 643 reported cases over three years were from 243 prisons, housing about 155 000 inmates.
"For all reported cases, measures were taken to address (the complaints). All are investigated and action is taken against the culprits," he said.
Prisoners who reported sexual offences received medical and psychological assistance.
Maistry said the department had taken measures to address the problem and Ndebele was due to launch an electronic monitoring system in November.