Prisoners set to go on strike as they demand govt intervention about overcrowding
This was the warning issued by prisoner rights activist Golden Miles Bhudu.
Bhudu said his South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights (SAPOHR) had through WhatsApp groups mobilised thousands of prisoners to support his call for the release of “half” of the prison population.
The call to release some prisoners, which was supported by the Sonke Gender Justice (SGJ), followed reports of 79 virus positive cases in East London and Port Elizabeth prisons.
“We are in an advanced state to embark on the national peaceful prisons shutdown from Monday to force the department to come to its senses to halve the population,” said Bhudu.
The shutdown, which he said Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola had been informed about, would take the form of a go-slow and boycotting of meals.
“We are going to take only a second meal or only the first meal, and we will keep on singing the freedom songs and chanting slogans until such time somebody listens to us.”
He said SAPOHR had appealed to prisoners not to engage in a violent action that would provoke the Correctional Services' emergency support teams.
“Chapter 2 of the Bill of Rights Section 17 says every South African has the right to assemble an unarmed and peaceful demonstration to submit a memorandum of grievances.”
He said SAPOHR was calling for the release of petty crime offenders and prisoners eligible for parole.
It was reported early this month that England and Wales were planning to release up to 4000 prisoners to curb the spread of Covid-19 inside prisons. It was also reported that Turkey’s parliament had decided to temporarily release 45000 prisoners.
SGJ’s national prisons co-ordinator Zia Wasserman told SAFM yesterday the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) lacked an operational plan and “seemed to be responding ad hoc when issues arise as opposed to being active”.
“We would like to see a rolling out of a massive screening and testing campaign, which they only started last week to implement in Joburg.
“Another measure is to release some of the detained people to reduce the population in the prisons,” said Wasserman.
DSC spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo described Bhudu as “very reckless and irresponsible” by mobilising inmates to rise against the state, “which could be defined as treasonous”.
“There is basically no reason to instigate inmates to fight the state as measures are in place in response to Covid-19,” he said.
Nxumalo ruled out the possibility of releasing prisoners saying among measures in place to prevent prison infection was the procurement of mobile quarantine sites to isolate inmates who tested positive while waiting to admit them to outside hospitals.
“We have hospitals inside centres, only complicated cases are then referred to outside hospitals."
He said to limit in-and-out-of-prison movement, court appearances were now conducted through the audio-visual remand system.