Durban - Former Wits University researcher and journalist Ruth Hopkins, who exposed horrors in Bloemfontein’s Mangaung Prison, hopes the company will lose its contract to run the facility.
“After all the exposure, they still have the prison contracts,” she said in a telephone interview with the Independent on Saturday from the United Kingdom.
Hopkins said the company, G4S, which is the world’s largest security firm, followed a business model that involved paying guards poorly – lower than the Department of Correctional Services – making private prisons “a rich breeding ground for violence”.
She said this was the practice at its prisons in Malawi, India, Malawi, Colombia and SA.
“The pay is at a low level, and profits trickle upwards to the CEOs and top management. It’s all about money.”
Hopkins said global capitalist multinationals were joining forces with capitalists in SA.
“Everybody wants to make money. Nobody pays any attention to human rights and human dignity. It’s all about money.”
In her book, The Misery Merchants: Life and Death in a Private South African Prison, she writes that inmates are forcibly being given anti-psychotic drugs and tortured with electric shock “therapy”, detailing the flow of money in and out of the prison, the links with MPs, and what she calls “the shocking ‘governance’ of the prison by G4S”.
“It is bizarre that after all the exposure, G4S still has the prison contracts,” she said.
Hopkins said she had first become aware of Mangaung when prisoners wrote to her research project at Wits.
“I noticed that Mangaung prisoners wrote the most letters. So I went to Bloemfontein with the Wits Justice Project, and I interviewed 100 inmates.
“I learned about the electroshocks, prisoners being forcibly injured, riots, hostage-taking, murder and beatings. All covered up by widespread corruption.”
Hopkins said she had been to between 20 and 30 prisons in SA.
“My impression is that Mangaung is the most violent, and I get that feeling based on extensive research.
“It is caused not just by a dysfunctional prison system but combined with a profit-making incentive.”
She added that this was not a uniquely South African problem. The same happened in the US and Australia.
Hopkins went on to say that, in 2014, the London law firm Leighday approached her for their investigation to see if G4S had harm committed to inmates.
“They wanted them to stand trial in the London High Court.
“I interviewed prisoners in Mangaung and prisoners who had left Mangaung, but before it came before a judge, G4S said they were happy to appear before a SA judge. They probably said this, knowing how dysfunctional the justice system is here.”
Neither G4S nor the Department of Correctional Services responded to repeated requests for comment.
The Independent on Saturday