Get IOL's cool new iPad app...
Durban - Days after police in Daveyton dragged Mozambican Mido Macia to his death behind their van, setting off an international outcry, it has emerged that eight warders at Durban Westville’s Medium A Prison beat an inmate to death following a knifing in the mess hall.
This came less than two months after an inmate at the Groenpunt Prison in the Free State died of his injuries after being subdued by warders when he stabbed one of them in full view of visiting MPs.
Shocked members of Parliament’s correctional services oversight committee said something had to be done quickly to stem this tide of violence, after they were briefed by the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services on Wednesday on its latest quarterly report.
The inspectorate’s chief executive, Adam Carelse, told the hushed meeting it was investigating a report, which it viewed as being “of a very, very serious nature – something similar to what happened in our streets in Gauteng, at Durban Westville – where an inmate died at the hands of eight officials”.
The man had stabbed two other inmates during breakfast, he said.
“Eight members then restricted that inmate and they have assaulted him, and I think tortured him, to the extent that he later died.”
The inspectorate had begun its investigation and received conflicting accounts of the incident from prison officials that did not fit with the medical opinion.
“We did go into his medical history. He did not die of anything else but being tortured, being beaten, being assaulted by eight members of Correctional Services.
“They put the rest of the inmates back in the cell, they took him out and that was his fate,” Carelse said.
Portfolio committee chairman Vincent Smith said the officials must be suspended and charged, as had happened to police implicated in taxi driver Macia’s death.
“As we stated after Groenpunt, inmates, like any other South African, are entitled to be treated with the dignity that they deserve, and we condemn and will continue to condemn blatant abuse by officials and inmates,” Smith said.
The committee could not stand by and do nothing: “Not three days after what has happened in Daveyton with the police. We cannot not do anything about it.”
Smith suggested MPs might visit the prison to do their own investigation.
Members of the committee complained they had been hearing reports of abuse for years, but no consequences ever followed for the guilty officials.
ANC MP Winnie Ngwenya said they always heard the case was being investigated “and it ends there”.
She asked when the Correctional Services Department would act against officials, as the police had in the case of Macia’s death.
MPs complained that the judicial inspectorate was dependent on the Correctional Services Department for funding and had no authority to act on complaints, relying instead on the department to investigate itself – with predictable results.
The Correctional Services Department said on Wednesday it had suspended the eight warders and was investigating with a view to establishing who was directly involved and handing them to the police. But it denied torture had been involved.
Alfred Tsetsane, acting chief operations officer for Correctional Services, said the incident had happened on February 23 and not on Saturday, as the inspectorate believed, but this was probably a result of mistaken identity, as another prisoner had died in hospital that day.
He said a preliminary investigation showed the man had resisted after officials intervened in a fight and was then beaten. The report did not indicate torture, he said.
Should the inspectorate be unhappy with progress in the department’s investigation, it had the mandate to do its own investigation.
ANC MP Meriam Phaliso said the violence suggested moral decay.
“Something needs to be done very quickly, because society is angry. What this anger is all about we don’t know, but there is an anger in society”.
But Vincent Magagula, ANC, suggested too much focus was being put on the rights of the prisoner. “You can’t deny the right of the other person when you don’t want your right to be denied.”
He said in the Groenpunt incident in January, MPs had watched as a prisoner stabbed a warder to earn a rank in a prison gang. “You mean that while he stabbed the police (warder) in front of everyone, the police must say, ‘you can stab me, there’s nothing I can do to you’.”
Salam Abram, ANC, said the person was in prison for having harmed society, but this didn’t mean they should be treated as “sub-human”.