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Free State - Groenpunt’s prisoners have threatened to continue burning jail cells if their grievances were not addressed by Minister of Correctional Services S’bu Ndebele.
The angry prisoners from the Groenpunt maximum security wing in the Free State went on the rampage on Monday afternoon, setting fire to the administrative block and burning their mattresses and bedding.
On Tuesday morning, Medium A prisoners joined in, also burning mattresses and bedding.
Six prison cells were badly burnt during the riot and several were locks tampered with.
The department said damage, which amounted to millions of rand, included three administration offices that were completely burnt, destroying furniture and documents.
As a result, hundreds of inmates had to be transferred to other prisons. Deputy regional commissioner Grace Molatedi said they were rearranging things at the prison, a move that would result in maximum prisoners being transferred to ensure they are properly accommodated.
Prison insiders told The Star just after 5pm on Tuesday that some of the prisoners had been transferred to Westville and Kokstad prisons.
“They said those who were taken had played a role in influencing us into burning the prison,” one prisoner said, adding that they spent the entire day locked up on Tuesday, going out only to collect food from the dining area.
Correctional Services acting national commissioner Nontsikelelo Jolingana said security had been beefed up at the prison. She said extra warders had been deployed to the prison.
She said both the SAPS and her department were investigating the incident.
Jolingana described the maximum section as a mess.
“Police have cordoned off the scene. Violent actions by prisoners will not be entertained by the department. Charges will be brought against those implicated in this,” said Jolingana.
Prisoners told The Star on Tuesday night that they would continue burning the prison cells.
“We are going to burn this prison if they don’t listen to us. We are not going to listen to anyone else except the minister (Ndebele),” one prisoner said.
The prisoners said their main grievances were the prison’s poor rehabilitation programmes and a lack of medication at the prison hospital.
The inmates also claimed many HIV-positive prisoners were denied access to antiretrovirals.
“Sometimes prisoners go for days without getting their treatment. They are treating us like animals. They don’t care if the inmates get sick if they don’t take their medication regularly,” said one inmate.
Molatedi said they were not aware that the prisoners had not been getting their treatment on a regular basis.
“These grievances were not brought to us. But we know that the prisoners claim there is lack of communication between them and the nurses.
“In terms of health and food, it’s the prisoners’ rights to bring up these issues,” she said.
Jolingana said the maximum wing would be under lockdown, meaning that visitation hours would be cut and prisoners’ daily programmes would stop running as investigations were under way.
Meanwhile, prisoners’ rights activist Golden Miles Bhudu condemned the rioting but lashed out at Correctional services for ignoring prisoners’ grievances.
“This was a long time coming. We as an organisation (SA Prisoners’ Organisation for Human Rights) have been taking notice, not only at this particular prison but other prisons throughout the country where inmates complain and correctional services ignore their complaints,” he said.
The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union also condemned the turmoil, saying they were appalled by the lack of respect for law and order demonstrated by the inmates.