WATCH: Violence erupts in prisons as inmates feel 'frustrated', fearful of Covid-19
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Cape Town – Violence has erupted in several prisons across the country as some inmates demand to be released, fearing they risked being infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus.
A video circulating on social media shows bloodied and bruised inmates.
Warders dressed in riot gear can be seen dragging an inmate across the prison yard while inmates shout: “They are killing us”.
SA Sentenced and Awaiting Trial Prisoners Organisation (Sasapo) chairperson Phindile Zweni said inmates were frustrated by certain rules and feared their safety had been compromised.
Zweni said it was “disgusting” to learn of warders manhandling
inmates during this time, when they were concerned about the increase in number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in prisons.
He said inmates were being infected with the virus by warders, as only they were allowed to travel and return to correctional facilities.
“Inmates, therefore, set to embark on a strike following the contravention of their rights during the lockdown.”
Zweni said he had written to Justice Minister Ronald Lamola requesting to meet on an “urgent basis to discuss Covid-19 issues, in as far as it affects our inmate members”.
Correctional Services Department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said the department had taken note of mobilisation efforts by individuals “instigating inmates to revolt against the state”.
“This is totally irresponsible and reckless, and there is no need for such.
“The department is currently engaging with relevant law enforcement agencies to take necessary action,” Nxumalo said.
He said reports purporting that inmates were not protected against the virus could not be substantiated.
“Since the suspension of visits to correctional centres on March 16, only one centre, in East London, out of
the country’s 243 correctional facilities has confirmed Covid-19 cases for inmates.
“The department acted promptly by activating containment and treatment measures where necessary, and enforcing prevention.”
Zia Wasserman, national prison co-ordinator for Sonke Gender Justice, said the protest was indicative of detainees’ anxiety during this time, “and we remain concerned around their access to preventative health measures”.
However, Wasserman said there was a process for achieving change – one that supported the Correctional Services Department and protected the safety of detainees.
“Calls for protests and hunger strikes seem counter-intuitive means to an end, exemplified by the fact that they have resulted in the injury of detainees,” she said.
Correctional Services National Commissioner Arthur Fraser said the department remained committed to its mandate to ensure the safe and secure custody of offenders in all correctional centres in the country.
“Offenders who flout internal rules and regulations will continue to face internal disciplinary processes,” Fraser said.