File picture: Fred Cleary/Reuters
File picture: Fred Cleary/Reuters

Outcry over Pietermaritzburg prisoner labour plan

By Lethu Nxumalo Time of article published Apr 11, 2021

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Pietermaritzburg - Prisoner rights activists and labour unions have vowed to shut down Pietermaritzburg should its leadership continue to set in motion the plan to have prisoners clean up the city.

The Msunduzi municipality was given the nod by the council’s executive to devise a workable plan with the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) which will see inmates sweep and clean the streets, cut grass in cemeteries and public parks, paint municipal buildings as well as service the municipality’s fleet.

Msunduzi municipality has been plagued by maladministration and allegations of corruption resulting in basic service delivery not being adhered to.

Xolani Shinga, provincial deputy secretary of the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu ) said the organisation was infuriated by the “evil and apartheid-like agreement” between the parties. He said as a stakeholder, they were not consulted or informed on these developments, and that the decaying state of the city was an indication of a lack of ideas to run a local government capable of delivering services.

“This agreement should be considered as slavery of a special kind and a human rights violation. We are convinced that it will also put the lives of residents at risk as it will present a greater chance for the inmate to escape while in the field.

“We are putting our foot down and we are mobilising all progressive forces locally and nationally to bring the city to a standstill,” he said.

Golden Miles Bhudu of the SA Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights (Sapohr) encouraged workers and unions to reject the municipality’s plan, labelling their approach opportunistic and hypocritical.

Bhudu accused DCS of hijacking an idea that Sapohr had brought to the fore two decades ago.

“We have been talking about the industrialisation of our prisons because we believe that prison works when prisoners work,” he said.

“It’s a brilliant idea but the way these charlatans want to do it is not right. You cannot get up one morning and want to put prisoners at work in the streets, cleaning up the town without a consultative discussion. This has been our idea since the dawn of democracy and if they want to go on with this in a haphazard manner without talking to us, we will also call on prisoners not to participate in this project because it is about exploiting, degrading and humiliating them,” Bhudu said.

Thulani Mdluli, KZN DCS spokesperson, stated that the Probation Services Amendment Act 35 of 2002 sets out to “provide the establishment and implementation of reintegration programmes aimed at combating crime for the rendering of assistance to and treatment of people involved in crime and for matters connected therewith”.

He said therefore the department had worked with various communities in different projects such as building houses for the destitute, mowing grass at schools, making school uniforms under reintegration programmes prescribed in the White Paper on Correction Chapter 3.

Mdluli said inmates who were part of these initiatives were low risk, probationers and parolees under strict security.

“Msunduzi municipality and DCS will engage in the memorandum of understanding to clean the city using offenders' labour. It must be clear though that the department won't be taking over every work rendered by municipal cleaners, however we are augmenting the resources that the municipality already has been doing with other stakeholders,” said Mdluli.

“The legal document can't be preempted at the present moment. As soon as everything is agreed upon, the public will be notified so that everyone must be responsible in the social reintegration to try and reduce recidivism,” Mdluli said.

Thobeka Mafumbatha, municipal spokesperson, explained that their partnership formed part of the societal responsibility of the correction of inmates, and that the offender labourers programme was based on ideals contained in the country's constitution.

She said the partnership was guided by the intergovernmental relations framework and the Correctional Services Act that encourages the organs of the state to work together where common interests exist, and therefore was not aimed at enslaving or exploiting the inmates.

“Msunduzi municipality has been under administration for the past three years and as such has had very limited resources to fill all vacant positions on the organogram, and to address the huge service delivery backlogs. This initiative is part of the offenders’ community service payback to society for their offences.”

She said a management team composed of representatives from the municipality, DCS and the police had been put together and they would monitor, measure efficiency and report back to the municipality. Police will carry out relevant verifications to ensure that labourers were not high risk and could pose a threat to the community.

Sunday Tribune

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