Clive Derby-Lewis. File photo

Johannesburg - Convicted murderer Clive Derby-Lewis underwent a “lifesaving operation” after he was stabbed for a second time in a Pretoria prison, his attorney Marius Coetzee said on Wednesday.

But the correctional services department (DCS) has denied having any knowledge of this, saying Derby-Lewis went to hospital for a “scheduled visit” which had nothing to do with the stabbing.

In a four-page letter written to the DCS, Coetzee said while the department had claimed his client only sustained a “minor injury” after he was stabbed in the back by another inmate on Sunday, he was rushed to theatre on Tuesday.

“Just after midnight on Tuesday, the hospital called Dr Durand urgently requesting him to come to the hospital,” Coetzee said in the letter.

“When Dr Durand arrived and examined him, he found that the stab wound that was inflicted on Sunday inside the prison, had penetrated the lung.”

“Mr Derby-Lewis was suffocating in his own blood and needed urgent medical attention.”

Coetzee said Kgosi Mampuru prison medical officials had failed to check whether Derby-Lewis had suffered any internal injuries but had instead simply stitched up his wound.

When news of the attack broke on Tuesday, DCS spokesman Manelisi Wolela said: “The injury on his back caused by a glass used by an offender is described as minor and was treated at the local centre clinic.”

At the time, Correctional Services Minister Sbu Ndebele condemned the attack, saying prisoners went to prison as a punishment and should not be punished any further.

“When Derby-Lewis comes out of hospital he will be placed in a single cell where a repeat of this thing will never happen. We will ensure he is safe,” Ndebele was quoted as saying.

Coetzee said it was clear that the DCS did not care about his well-being.

“He was held in prison without proper medical care and could have easily died during the night,” said Coetzee.

“They have brushed aside the seriousness of the attacks and his medical condition by minimising the incident.”

The DCS however said it knew nothing about the life-saving operation that was linked to Sunday's stabbing.

“As far as we are aware, his time in hospital had nothing to do with the stabbing,” said spokesman Logan Maistry.

“It was a planned visit which was scheduled some time ago.”

Maistry said prison officials had given Derby-Lewis the best possible medical care after the stabbing.

“This matter has been condemned in the strongest possible terms... even by Minister Ndebele,” he said.

“A criminal case was also being investigated by the SA Police Services.”

In February, Derby-Lewis and his co-accused Janus Walusz were attacked with a sharpened spoon by another prisoner. They suffered lacerations on the head and hand.

Both men are in prison for their role in the murder of SA Communist Party secretary general Chris Hani, who was shot dead in the driveway of his home in 1993.

Derby-Lewis, who was sentenced to 25 years behind bars, has already served more than 20 years of his sentence.

The 78-year-old man, who was reportedly diagnosed with cancer, has twice been denied medical parole.

He first made an application in 2012, and another in 2011.