PORT ELIZABETH - Three years ago cellphone detection technology was widely trumpeted by the Department of Correctional Services as a means to root out illegal activity within prison walls across the country.
However, as a new video - taken inside a notorious Eastern Cape prison - shows, there is little to no proper detection of classified as "contraband" which is still a common occurrence.
The video shows an awaiting-trial prisoner who is seemingly drinking alcohol at St Albans Correctional Centre in the Eastern Cape.
The African News Agency (ANA) obtained the video from a reliable source who declined to be named. It is understood that the video footage was captured recently in a cell at the Medium A section of the prison.
According to the source, the men were allegedly celebrating following the death of a rival gang member outside prison walls.
Shelton "Sella" Malgas has been identified as the man who is drinking what appears to be alcohol while the other man was identified as Whaldred Cona.
The two appear jovial as they listen to rap music.
Malgas is charged alongside Elgershwin Goliath, Nealon Redhouse and Deon Harmse for the murder of notorious Port Elizabeth gang kingpin Donovan "Staal" Berry.
In May 2016, Berry was killed in a hail of bullets in what was believed to be an assassination by rival gang members.
Berry was killed in Barberry Street, Bethelsdorp. At the time, police recovered more than 30 spent bullet casing scattered around his body.
ANA has also seen prisoners from St Albans frequently updating their WhatsApp status. The prisoners are often seen posing in their orange prison overalls.
The installation of detection technology at various prisons across the country was "at an advanced stage", the Department of Correctional Services was quoted as saying in 2015.
At the time, the department had undertaken to install cellphone detection technology at Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town, Umzinto and Durban-Westville in KwaZulu-Natal, St Albans in Port Elizabeth, and Kgosi Mapuru II in Pretoria.
The initiative reportedly came about after three offenders from the Medium B Centre at Pollsmoor posted their pictures on Facebook using cellphones.
Around the same time, Sizwe Vumazonke regularly updated his Facebook page while awaiting trial in the Jayde Panayiotou murder trial in Port Elizabeth. Vumazonke allegedly executed the schoolteacher, but died before he could stand trial.
The Department of Correctional Services said that a cellphone detection system was introduced in 2015 at the Mthatha Prison with success and indicated that the same system would be rolled out to St Albans prison the following year.
In 2016, the department confirmed it had begun installing cellphone-detection systems at facilities across the country to help narrow searches to mere metres, IOL reported. The system was meant to locate, track and identify sources of radio frequencies in a targeted area. The department said it was unlike cellphone jamming but rather “passive systems” which did not interfere with transmissions, block or deny cellphone use or disrupt cellular traffic.
But two years later and St Albans Prison still has no cellphone detection systems and prison wardens undertake physical searches in an attempt to confiscate hundreds of cellphones reported to be in circulation inside the correctional facility.
"St Albans has no cellphone technology system. Inmates are not allowed access to mobile phones and these are classified as contraband," department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo told ANA this week.
Given the department's undertaking in 2015, ANA enquired as to the status of cellphone detection systems at various prisons, but Nxumalo said releasing such information would be a threat to the prison security system.
Nxumalo said during September, four searches were conducted at St Albans Prison and a total of 67 cellphones were confiscated. Last month, a prison warder was arrested for the possession of drugs, 17 cellphones, four cellphone starter packs and an iphone charger.
Police said that the warder was arrested after evading a routine search and making a u-turn at the security check point. The warder was subsequently followed and pulled over and authorities discovered the items.
The warder faces charges of illegal possession of drugs, suspected stolen property and corruption while an internal investigation is also underway by DCS and the warden has been suspended.
The smuggling of cellphones within prison walls is a worldwide phenomena as the technology can be used to plan escapes, interfere in ongoing cases, intimidate witnesses or even take out rivals on the outside.
South Africa has had a number of infamous instances, including that of Czech fugitive, Radovan Krejcir, who was moved to the maximum security Kokstad Prison after an elaborate escape plan was uncovered.
During a raid in September 2016, several contraband items, including 10 cellphones, SIM cards and memory sticks were discovered, including details of a reported multi-million escape plot contained on USB devices which, with the cellphones and SIM cards, had reportedly been smuggled to Krejcir by a visitor.
Two of the so-called Waterkloof Four - high school pupils who beat a homeless man to death in Pretoria - had their parole revoked when a video of them drinking what appeared to be alcohol and using a cellphone at the Kgosi Mampuru II prison surfaced.
Christoff Becker, Frikkie du Preez, Gert van Schalkwyk and Reinach Tiedt, were jailed for beating a homeless man to death in Pretoria in 2001.
In September 2011, Durban's so called "axe-man" Joseph Ntshongwana updated his Facebook status, posted a new cellphone number and urged his Facebook friends to contact him.
This was reportedly five months after he was arrested and imprisoned for murdering three people with an axe.
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African News Agency (ANA)