Johannesburg – The tragic death of a 6-month-old baby sparked violent protests at a female prison after allegations of gross negligence and cruelty towards mothers and their children.
This week at Johannesburg Correctional Centre’s mother and child section, inmates embarked on strike action after Saturday’s death of a baby girl.
Her mother, 19, had not seen her since she had been admitted to Soweto’s Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital last month.
The Joburg Prison is popularly known as Sun City.
On Monday, Sindiswa*, the mother, spoke of the trauma of not being allowed to view her baby’s body after she said she was “nonchalantly informed” on Sunday her daughter had died the previous day.
Sindiswa was seven months’ pregnant when she arrived at Sun City in December to serve her year-long sentence for shoplifting. She gave birth in February at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital where she stayed for a month because she could not breastfeed after getting an infection.
Sindiswa said she was HIV-positive and her baby had received medication in the month she was in hospital to keep her healthy and prevent the spread of the virus.
Back in prison, the distraught mother said her daughter had to survive on sugar water for three months because prison officials allegedly did not supply the HIV medication, formula or food for her.
“When I had run out of sugar, I would use salt instead. I begged Zanele Mabaso (the prison head) to seek medical treatment for my child because I could see that she was getting seriously ill, but Zanele refused.
“I had to speak to my family and ask that they come and fetch my child in prison because I feared for her health and her life. Zanele still refused, saying that it was the hard lockdown and no one would be allowed to fetch any child,” she said.
She added that Mabaso and a prison official, identified as Ms Goniwe, had not allowed her to see her child’s body, which sparked the fiery protests this week.
Another inmate, who has a child in prison, said the mothers protested to fight for their rights as they allegedly had to endure the same treatment that Sindiswa received.
“As mothers of children at Sun City, we are striking because our babies don’t get medication; they don’t have food, clothes and nappies.
“The DCS neglects us. When we go to the nurses, they don’t book for us and our children to go to the hospital,” said the mother, who asked to remain anonymous.
Department of Correctional Services (DCS) spokesperson Logan Maistry acknowledged on Wednesday that the baby had died, and that the department had launched an investigation into the matter.
“The DCS views the allegations in a serious light (and) conveys condolences to the mother and family of the deceased baby.
“The DCS has launched an investigation following the incident on Monday, where female inmates behaved in an unruly manner, setting certain items alight, alleging that they were being treated unfairly by medical personnel,” Maistry said.
“Officials at the centre were able to swiftly quell the situation, and everything is back to normal. No injuries were sustained. The matter has been reported to the relevant authorities, and a full investigation is under way.
“Any person, be they officials or inmates, found guilty of any offence will face the consequences of their actions,” he added.
*Not her real name.