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Correctional services institutes full probe into Rooigrond prison escape

Four dangerous suspects escaped from the Rooigrond Correctional Facility in North West on Tuesday morning. From left to right: Alfred Gwambe, Zacharia Francisco Nyalimate, Siyabonga Sithole and Edward Madiba. Pictures: Supplied

Four dangerous suspects escaped from the Rooigrond Correctional Facility in North West on Tuesday morning. From left to right: Alfred Gwambe, Zacharia Francisco Nyalimate, Siyabonga Sithole and Edward Madiba. Pictures: Supplied

Published Mar 18, 2022

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THE Department of Correctional Services has instituted a full investigation into the escape that took place in the Rooigrond maximum prison near Mahikeng this week.

Four dangerous prisoners escaped after they cut through the bars, got out of the window of the cell and then scaled the fence of the facility in the early hours of Wednesday.

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Briefing the justice and correctional services portfolio committee on Friday, acting national commissioner Makgothi Thobakgale said he received a preliminary report on the escape on Thursday night.

“We have the preliminary report as I indicated, and we are now sanctioning a full investigation to be headed by the acting chief security officer from head office,” Thobakgale said.

He said on the night in question, there were seven officials on duty for the whole facility.

“We had one on patrol vehicle outside the peri-metre fence and surroundings. We also had one official in charge of the unit, and the same official was also booked to do a patrol of unit two.”

MPs heard that the preliminary investigation has pointed to issues around cell inspection, which was meant to be conducted every day with all prisoners expected to get out and a cell inspected.

Thobakgale said they would look into the response to the rope found close to the peri-metre fence by the official on patrol.

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“The official found a rope close to the peri-metre fence and submitted it. The issue, for us, is what kind of security response was applied at that time,” he said, adding that they had expected more than the submission of the rope.

He also said they were looking into the unit management and how the unit manager approached duties and the application of staff.

Thobakgale also said there was also the monitoring of external contractors at the back of the cell where the prisoners escaped.

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“There is a boiler plant where maintenance is done by contractors through the Department of Public Works. They sometimes work at night,” he said.

“Next to that also is a power plant that was under maintenance just a few weeks and during this week. They were still there when the offenders escaped,” he said.

According to Thobakgale, they were also looking at the whole management of the maximum facility, including management practices and resources.

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“Out of the preliminary report, the issue of tower posts was raised sharply regardless of the fact that from the office of acting national commissioner, we gave all regional commissioners an instruction to revive the tower posts.

“Tower posts give us more visibility and they cover a wide range even to the extent that is more than what a patrol would do,” he said.

Thobakgale said the regional commissioners were given the instruction, and a pledge of support was made for resources to refurbish the tower posts.

“It was one issue picked up early in October in terms of improvement of security. That instruction went hand in hand with inspection of cells and intensifying searches in our facilities.”

He told MPs that during their inspection of the facility after the escape, they heard about staff shortages, which were flagged quite seriously.

“One thing they indicated is some of them end up doing double and three shifts. We are going to try and see how to resolve these problems, given the limitation of budget.”

Thobakgale was adamant that “there will be consequence management based on outcomes of the investigation report”.

ANC MP Nomathemba Maseko-Jele said the escape of the prisoners was embarrassing as the MPs were on an oversight visit there recently.

“We were assured everything was in order, even the towers. We looked inside the towers, and we were told that the place is always manned and there is always a person inside,” Maseko-Jele said.

She also said it was worrying that each time something happened, issues of shortage of staff were raised.

“We hear more about the problem than dealing with the issues and people that might be involved to make sure things are in order,” Maseko-Jele added.

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