Socialite Sifiso Zulu has not slept one night on the steel bed of his Medium B jail cell since being admitted to Westville Prison on Saturday. Instead, the convicted businessman was taken straight to the prison hospital.
It is unclear what, or if anything, is wrong with Zulu, or how long his hospital stay looks set to be, with explanations from Correctional Services as muddled as the delays leading up to Zulu’s eventual imprisonment.
On Monday, department spokesmen said Zulu had arrived at the prison “fit and well”.
Prison warders and sources close to prison officials, who confirmed Zulu was still in hospital on Tuesday, say there appears to be nothing wrong with him, and that the only reason he is in hospital is because he is being afforded privilege and protection.
They say he is merely following in the footsteps of fellow convicts Schabir Shaik and Jackie Selebi, who were admitted to prison hospitals in controversial circumstances, rather than ordinary cells.
However, Correctional Services said his admission to hospital was part of “routine assessments” compulsory for all prisoners.
KZN Correctional Services Department spokesman Nokuthula Zikhali said all prisoners were entitled to this assessment to ascertain whether they were “fit” to be imprisoned in ordinary cells. When asked how long this assessment could take, she said it “could take less than 10 days” and “up to 21 days”.
However, Zikhali could not say what Zulu’s condition was, or what such assessment entailed.
Further clarity was then sought from KZN Correctional Services commissioner James Baxter, who suggested Zulu’s circumstances were “unique” because he had arrived at the prison late on Saturday night and therefore had been admitted to the hospital late.
Baxter also said the 21-day assessment was compulsory, but did not only include health issues.
“We also do risk profiling… We have 21 days to assess a person to see what kind of programmes need to be followed for them.”
When asked what Zulu’s condition was, or how long he was going to be in hospital for, Baxter said he would find out and liaise with Zikhali, who would be able to provide The Mercury with the accurate information. However, neither answered his phone or returned calls afterwards.
Derrick Mdluli, of the Justice for Prisoners and Detainees Trust, confirmed that each prisoner had to undergo a routine medical check-up, but said this was done on admission to prison and was normally completed within a matter of minutes, before the prisoners were taken to their cells. Former prisoners also confirmed this.
Warders who spoke to The Mercury were confused about the 21-day assessment, saying that this procedure did not occur.
“In jail, we admit 30 to 50 people a day, sometimes more. The hospital only accommodates about 15 people, so there is no way they all go to hospital. This surprises me. He (Zulu) was partying three days ago, but now he is in hospital.”
Another source confirmed Zulu had been in the hospital since Saturday, and that there appeared to be nothing wrong with him.
“There are only two reasons prisoners go to hospital: for health problems, and for protection if they are public figures.”
Zulu’s attorney did not return any phone calls.
In attempts to get the official protocol as outlined by the national Department of Correctional Services, The Mercury contacted chief deputy commissioner Zacharia Modise.
Modise said every offender was examined by a nurse on entering the prison. They would then go to their cells and the next day, or within 24 hours, they would be examined by a doctor. Only if they had been injured or were clearly unwell would they be admitted to hospital or given further medical treatment.
Modise also explained that the 21-day assessment was to establish a “sentence plan” for each offender. This would include offenders being screened and classified in terms of their circumstances and what dangers they posed. The plan also looked at education.
During this assessment, Modise said, prisoners were housed in an “admissions unit”, separate from other prisoners. However, they were not admitted to hospital.
When The Mercury then attempted to ask him about Zulu’s situation, Modise began to shout and rant, saying he had been “tricked” into giving the information when the issue was about Zulu. He then hung up the phone and would not answer further calls.
* Zulu has offered to pay R5 000 more than his initial bail amount of R15 000 to secure his freedom. He said this in an affidavit in support of his bail application, which is to take place in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Friday, in conjunction with a leave-to-appeal application against the confirmation of his conviction, on two counts of culpable homicide and five-year sentence, of which two years were suspended. – Additional reporting by Sharika Regchand