In one video, two prisoners fight each other with warders looking on and, apparently giving them batons to attack each other. In another video, convicted murderer Ruwain Meer, who is serving a life term, is seen snorting what appears to be cocaine.
The Daily News has also seen a video where Meer comments on the funeral of Kelvin Periasamy, the alleged Bloods gang boss who was killed earlier this month.
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has instructed the correctional services department to urgently investigate which officials were on duty and whether they had been subjected to disciplinary action.
“This report must be made available as soon as it is practicably possible. We are not a lawless state. Moreover, institutions which are meant to rehabilitate inmates cannot be a hive of lawlessness,” said Lamola.
He described the videos as shocking and said once the officials in the video were discovered, they would be made accountable for their actions.
However, the videos came as no surprise to prisoner rights organisations, which said it was just a continuation of what had happened for years in prisons.
“The prison system has collapsed. During apartheid, prisons were strict, brutal and inhumane so that the apartheid system was enforced. With the new system, prisons have been turned into places of useless toil,” said the SA Prisoners’ Organisation for Human Rights spokesperson Golden Miles Bhudu.
Bhudu, a former convict, said not much had changed in the prison system, since 1991, when he was released. He said the system promoted violence, torture and gang rape as a way to resolve conflict. Bhudu said Lamola would have to think out of the box to try and resolve problems facing the prison system.
Derrick Mdluli, founder of Justice for Prisoners and Detainees Trust, said the videos were symptomatic of the situation prisons were in.
He said it was common practice for warders to use prisoners to fight their battles.
“Things in jail have come to a point where warders have become a part of the prison gang system and new prisoners would be allocated along their gang affiliations,” said Mdluli.
He said the only solution was for prisoners not to be placed in cells according to gang affiliations, but felt this was unlikely to be prevented.
Earlier this year, the Daily News reported that raids at Westville and Pietermaritzburg’s New Prison had highlighted the large amount of contraband prisoners had in their possession. Corrupt officials were suspected of smuggling in contraband.
Nthabeleneg Mokoena, provincial secretary of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), said they were against any form of illegal activities happening inside prisons.
“But we will await the outcome of the investigation.