Cape Town - Twenty-seven prisoners, all gang members, and armed with knives and sharpened objects, had every intention to kill when they launched an attack on 10 prison warders at the Drakenstein Correctional Centre near Paarl on Thursday.
This is according to regional commissioner for Correctional Services Delekile Klaas, who said the vicious attack left nine warders injured and all Western Cape prisons on high alert for similar gang attacks.
The prison, formerly Victor Verster, was in total lockdown after the incident.
“We placed our officers on high alert. No officials must go into correctional centres alone. Police are also on high alert,” said Klaas.
The injured warders had been stabbed multiple times, some in the neck, arm, back and head.
Klaas said the prisoners were being moved to another facility for an interview with the head of the correctional centre at the prison.
The prisoners, who are all 26s, 27s and 28s gang members, launched their attack as the warders opened a gate to escort them.
“Under normal circumstances there would be four warders for 27 prisoners, but there were 10 warders because the head of centre was in the building.
“As the officials unlocked and opened the gate… the offenders pushed against the warders with a full-on attack. They stabbed them with knives and beat them.”
Five warders had been seriously injured and four others sustained minor injuries.
“They used knives, sharp objects and all kinds of weapons.”
Klaas said the department was investigating how the prisoners got their hands on the knives.
“They could have come from corrupt officials, or family members who smuggled them in, or even contract workers.
“At this stage we can only speculate where they came from and we are investigating the matter.”
The injured warders were rescued by 10 other officials who managed to stop the bloodbath.
“We managed to retrieve seven knives including an Okapi knife at the scene,” said Klaas.
“All of the prisoners were involved in beating and stabbing the warders.
“Clearly it was a planned attack because they had weapons.”
He added that the prisoners would be separated and transported to different facilities where they might be reclassified and sent to maximum prison facilities.
“We are working closely with (the police) and Major-General Jeremy Vearey who deals with gang-related incidents.
“Cases of attempted murder have been opened.”
According to a Correctional Services official, who asked not to be named, the attack was a retaliation after a prisoner died after being restrained at Brandvlei Prison in Worcester.
The prisoner, Lubabalo Mzamo, allegedly attacked a warder with a padlock at the prison on January 4 during an alleged gang ritual.
While warders were restraining Mzamo he suffered head injuries and died at Tygerberg Hospital after 10 days in a coma.
“We suspect that today’s stabbing was a retaliation.
“All prisons are on high alert as more gang retaliations are expected.”
Klaas added that Mzamo was allegedly a high-ranking gang member, which was why there had to be a retaliation to his death.
“His death had to be repaid by blood of the officials. They were targeting the head of the centre, but discovered that she is a woman.
“So instead they targeted the warders.”
Meanwhile, DA spokesman on correctional services James Selfe said most prisons in the Western Cape were characterised by gang activity, which placed the officials in great danger.
“Often, initiation and promotion rituals involve drawing the blood of either a warden or a rival gang member.
“The DCS has a gang management strategy which is based on intelligence.”
He added it was clear from the latest incidents that the gang strategy needed to be overhauled.
“Gang leaders must be identified and dispatched to the C Max prisons, and warders need to be given the equipment and training to deal with gang members effectively.
“We will be raising this matter at the parliamentary portfolio committee,” added Selfe.