File Picture: Independent Media.
File Picture: Independent Media.

Riots erupt in prisons as Covid-19 infections rise

By Lesego Makgatho Time of article published Jul 12, 2020

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Johannesburg - Riots have erupted in many Gauteng prisons, including the notorious “Sun City”, over fears of the spread of Covid-19 that has claimed the lives of many warders and inmates.

However, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has shrugged off the unrest, saying it is deliberately orchestrated acts by unruly elements intent on forcing the government into a mass release of prisoners.

Allegations from the prisoners are that the government has stalled following its announcement in May to release more than 19000 low-risk inmates to combat severe overcrowding, which stood at 30%, according to official internal documents from the DSC, as a measure to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The DCS spokesperson, Singabakho Nxumalo, pointed out that infections in prisons have been rising in line with national trends; that 1012 active cases existed for inmates and officials, with only 88 active cases out of a community 146732 offenders countrywide.

Sources within the prisons, however, said over the past week alone, clinics, kitchens, security and records offices at Sun City - Johannesburg Correctional Centre - and at Kgosi Mampuru II in Tshwane, had to close down as numbers of Covid-19 infections increased inside the facilities.

Speaking to Sunday Independent on condition of anonymity, a Kgosi Mampuru II inmate said there were delays in the preparation of food after some prisoners were quarantined because of the virus.

An internal memo posted on the prison walls at the facility said the facility had 28 active cases and one death. But an official said the notice was two weeks out of date because more people had tested positive and a colleague was buried just last week.

“There are inmates who worked in the kitchen, who are currently under quarantine. These are inmates who prepared meals for us, so we’ve seen a delay in our meal preparations.

“This is supposed to be a rehabilitation centre, but there is no rehabilitation, whatsoever.

“We were told that 19000 low-risk inmates would be released to curb the spread of the virus, but not even 40 were released from this side, Kgosi Mampuru,” he said.

However, Nxumalo is adamant that there isn’t a crisis in correctional facilities saying: “Our officials do report for duty. Those who were in direct contact with positive cases have been placed in quarantine, so as isolating those who have tested positive.

“No sections in any of our facilities have been closed down due to Covid-19. We decontaminate sites where there are positive cases and open them for operations.

“This is going to be the norm moving forward across all institutions in the country”.

He said a picture is being painted of a chaotic environment with the hope that the public will be mobilised and pushed for the mass release of prisoners.

“Fortunately, numbers do tell the truth. Unfortunately, some individuals purporting to be representing the interest of offenders have engaged in an offensive campaign, misinforming the public.

“Only 195 inmates in the whole country have the virus in their system and thus require daily monitoring and treatment.

“It must be emphasised that such will never happen (the mass release). We live in a democratic state where the rule of law is supreme”.

Sunday Independent

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