Cape Town – Prison warders at the Voorberg Correctional Centre’s Medium A and B sections temporarily downed tools yesterday, demanding mass testing after a second positive case at the Porterville prison.
The warders, who said they “feared for their lives”, have given management until today to decontaminate the building or they will not work.
An inmate spoke to the Cape Times yesterday and said they had been kept inside their cells all day.
He said they had not been allowed their daily exercise as “there were no warders to guard them”.
The warders’ demonstration follows a probe by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) into the death of an official who recently tested positive for Covid-19 at a correctional facility. The department said an investigation by the Department of Health “was under way to determine the cause of death”.
Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union’s (Popcru) chief negotiator in the Western Cape, Dan Melapi, said: “The place is highly contaminated and we know that members have tested positive.
'There is an ongoing screening at the facility, but we have learnt that screening is not enough. When you screen, it shows that you’re fine and you only find out later that you have the virus,” he said.
“Decontamination has to be done in a space of 48 hours and the whole centre is supposed to be closed down and inmates transferred to other prisons. But given the short notice, we allowed them to continue with a four-hour cleansing,” he said.
DCS spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo refuted the allegations.
"We would like to reiterate that there is no incident where officials downed tools. Inmates continue to undertake their daily exercises. However, it has to be done differently as we cannot release all of them at the same time to the courtyard. This is to observe social distancing. We therefore take them out section by section. Some do not like the practice as it is new to them. But we have been explaining why it is critical that the court yard is not overcrowded."
Nxumalo added that the Area Commissioner had to address staff members as the centre continues to register positive cases.
"This is to explain how the Department is responding and what is expected from members. It is also important that, as a manager, you brief your members continuously as we are dealing with a virus of this nature.
"Decontamination was done at the centre before the first case was reported and it has been an ongoing exercise. It will also be done tomorrow. This is to prevent widespread contamination," he said.
The number of Covid-19 cases at correctional centres across the country climbed to 336 yesterday, with 15 new cases recorded. Of that, 81 are officials, and 10 are inmates in the Western Cape.