Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has said that the prisoners that came forward with information related to re-arrested prisoner Thabo Bester's escape from Mangaung Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein were not whistle-blowers.
“It should be noted that inmates who came forward with information about Thabo Bester were not whistle-blowers with regard to the escape. The offenders referred to only claimed to know about the Thabo Bester escape after it was published in the media,” Lamola said.
“The inmates were transferred out of Mangaung Correctional Centre in consideration of their safety,” he added.
Lamola was responding to questions from IFP MP Themba Msimang when he asked about “new and actionable” solutions the government has undertaken to ensure that prisoners who bring to light abuses suffered at the hands of wardens and prison management were protected while still incarcerated in prisons, especially where the transfer to another facility was not an option.
Msimang made an example about the Bester case, where some prisoners were reportedly targeted and their lives threatened.
Bester, who was convicted of rape and murder, escaped from the Mangaung Correctional Centre prison on May 3 last year.
This was after a body believed to be Bester’s was burnt in a single cell and a doctor certified him dead days after he asked to be moved to a single cell on April 30 for his safety, when he could not pay protection fee to gangsters.
Bester was re-arrested along with his “customary wife” Nandipha Magudumana in Tanzania two months ago.
In April, there were reports that prisoners were forced to scrub Bester’s cell clean with boiling water before forensic investigators arrived at the Mangaung prison facility and secured the crime scene.
It was reported at the time that after the forced clean-up, the prisoners were moved to other prisons across the country.
Lamola said routine complaints and requests were taken daily from offenders in units and registered in the designated register.
He also said that for protection of other inmates against officials and management, the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services was available daily in correctional facilities, to take complaints by and requests from inmates.
“These inmates are attended to independently, without monitoring and supervision of correctional officials. Inmates are also assisted to open cases with the police where necessary,” he said.
Lamola explained the procedure that was followed regarding the whistle-blower procedures in his department.
He said prisoners who provide reliable information concerning any wrongdoings by other offenders and officials were interviewed by the unit manager or head of the correctional centre.
“Such inmates are given an option to be transferred out of those facilities or placed in isolation cells for their own safety,” he said.
Lamola said an investigation into reports that Bester was able to move in and out of the Mangaung Correctional Centre long before his escape to conduct his private businesses was under way.
Lamola said he and the department learned about the allegations through media reports and immediately instituted an investigation through the national commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services.
“The national commissioner then appointed investigators who are currently busy with all allegations related to inmate Thabo Bester and his escape.
“Arrests have been effected and certain individuals are undergoing court processes based on criminal charges in relation to inmate Bester.”