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Cape Town - A Paarl man has given the Western Cape High Court a chilling account of his experience in a local prison, which started with him being raped by a leader of the 28s Gang in an overcrowded cell he shared with about 70 inmates, a nurse’s later refusal to treat him, and a priest’s advice that he should repent for his sins.
The man, who may not be identified, had not had any sexual relations before he was raped and is now HIV positive.
He is suing the minister of correctional services for R1.7 million, but is fighting for the go-ahead to proceed with the action because it is the minister’s contention that, in terms of the law, he failed to give notice of his intention to sue within a specific period of time. The man now wants the court to condone his failure to do so and explained his reasons for the delay.
These included that he did not realise he could sue the minister for the actions of prison warders until after his release. In addition, once he found a lawyer willing to help him, the lawyer needed to look at voluminous prison records, which were ready only after some time and took time to read, to assess the merits of such a claim. Explaining why he did not think of suing while he was in prison, he said that he was traumatised and in no position to consider whether he had any legal rights against the minister.
In an attached expert report, clinical psychologist Pam Tudin said that, together with the rapes, the ongoing dismissal of his plight by authorities who should have protected him left him in a state of helplessness and depression.
“As such, the delay in approaching the system for assistance in this matter is not only understandable, it was, as stated above, psychologically inevitable,” she said, adding that to dismiss the man’s claim would be to fail him irreparably.
Contained in the report was the detailed account the man had given to her, in his own words. His experience started on October 13, 1999.
“I was taken in a police van with a whole lot of other prisoners to Allandale Prison (in Paarl) to wait for my trial. There were lots of gangsters in the van with me. I knew they were gangsters mevrou (ma’am) because they had those tattoos on their faces. I tried not to look at them. But terrible things happened right in the beginning when I was already in the van. I was with a lot of them (gangsters): 26s, 27s and 28s.
“When we got there they first wanted to take our fingerprints. We were all sitting there like lambs waiting. I did not know anything. It was my first time to be in prison. I just sat there. They called out all our names to check that we were all there and then they called me forward for the prints. One warder who brought us in the van said to the other warder: ‘Here is the rubbish.’ The other prisoners could hear him. I was scared even by then.”
The man was accused of murder, but was awaiting trial and had not yet applied for bail.
His fingerprints were taken and he was taken to a holding cell.
“It is called ‘die gat’ (the hole), because the supervisor can only see through one window and you can’t really see what is happening on the sides of that cell.
“A 28s gang leader was there… He was smuggling in mandrax, alcohol, drugs and dagga. I knew him as a murderer from the outside. Everyone knows him. He is in and out of jail. He was known for being a murderer. In the courts that day he was preparing drug parcels to take into prison. He made me take one parcel up my behind – you know mevrou he even threatened me there while we were in the courts. He said he would beat me very bad if I didn’t do it. I just did it. In that cell there were about 70 people. It is a cell for just 25. We were sardines in a tin. There were not enough beds in that cell.
This one gangster made me take in the drugs. He was in the van with me. He was a big deal. I knew it from before and then in the van I could tell everyone was listening to him. I tried not to look at him in the van. But when I got to that place they call ‘die gat’, he was in the same cell as me. I don’t know why he was there because he is in and out of jail, not a new guy like me. He called me to a section where a bed was made for him with fancy blankets. It was by the shower so there is a small wall.”
He was raped twice – once by the 28s gang and on a second occasion, at knifepoint, by a fellow inmate.
A third attempt was unsuccessful after an inmate interfered. The inmate was beaten up for intervening.
The next day the victim told a nurse at the prison that he had been raped but, instead of comforting and treating him, the nurse told him that he should wash.
Later, a warder, who noticed how traumatised he was, arranged for him to see a priest. But he said it was of no use to him because the priest told him to repent for his sins.
A week later, he went to court to apply for bail and, when his lawyer told the magistrate what had happened to him, the magistrate responded: “That’s what happens in prison. You must expect that.”
It was only several months later, when he was transferred to another prison, that he discovered that he was HIV-positive.
“It was that man. He has killed me while I am alive. I am positive mevrou (ma’am). He has taken my life and all my hopes and dreams for a family. I couldn’t accept it. I still can’t. They got a psychologist to talk to me but he was not an easy person and had no answers for me. Just medicine. He didn’t talk to me like a person. I feel that God has punished me so much, so many times already.”
He told Tudin that he had thought of committing suicide and tried to seek help, but that people wouldn’t listen to him.
“No one has time for a man who is HIV positive from jail. I know what people will say that I should have been able to protect myself. Or that I wanted it. Dat ek ’n moffie is (that I am gay)…
“Even now I am thinking how I am telling you this story that maybe there will be no justice again. Maybe I will get another magistrate who says ‘these things happen’ – I tried for justice in prison, look what happened to me. Even the high-up people looked at me like I am a dishcloth, a nothing. They are not the ones who had to go back to that cell to face (my attacker) or his friends. They can say ‘these things happen’ but, if it was them, they would want justice. How can a magistrate not care. Not one, but two magistrates, did not care. Not a priest, not a warder, nobody. Nobody cares.”
The man’s condonation application is scheduled for October 7.