Riots have erupted in major Gauteng prisons over fears of the alleged rapid spread of Covid-19, which has aimed the lives of inmates and officials. File Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha  AfricanNewsAgency (ANA)
Riots have erupted in major Gauteng prisons over fears of the alleged rapid spread of Covid-19, which has aimed the lives of inmates and officials. File Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha AfricanNewsAgency (ANA)

Riots erupt in prisons as inmates say they fear getting Covid-19

By Khaya Koko Time of article published Jul 8, 2020

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Riots have erupted in major Gauteng prisons over fears of the alleged rapid spread of Covid-19, which has aimed the lives of inmates and officials.

Allegations are also 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 Department of Correctional Services (DSC), as a measure to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The Department of Correctional Services has slammed the disturbances as being deliberately orchestrated by unruly elements intent on forcing the government into a mass release of prisoners.

Department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said infections rose in line with national trends; that 1012 active cases existed for both inmates and officials, with only 88 active cases out of a community 146732 offenders cases countrywide.

“Unfortunately, some individuals purporting to be representing the interest of offenders have engaged on an offensive campaign, misinforming the public. A picture being painted is that of a chaotic environment with hope that the public will be mobilised and pushed for mass releases. It must be emphasised that such will never happen.

“We live in a democratic state where the rule of law is supreme. Only those classified to be of low risk and qualifying will be considered for parole placement,” Nxumalo said.

“No form of undue pressure and propaganda will prosper. Inmates are being incited not to respect authority. We have cases where inmates will deliberately cause chaos, which can only be defined as hooliganism.”

Sources within the prisoners, however said that over the past week, prison clinics, kitchens, security and records offices at Johannesburg Correctional Centre, commonly known as “Sun City”, and Kgosi Mampuru II in Tshwane have had to close as Covid-19 numbers increased inside the facilities.

Over the weekend, riots broke out at “Sun City” with prisoners, in solidarity with officials, refusing to eat until the department does more to protect them.

Pictures and videos which The Star has seen show the aftermath of the strikes, with inmates beaten and bruised.

A bruised inmate who was beaten up.

The protests followed two deaths in three days of a female and male inmate, both of whom are known to The Star.

An insider at “Sun City”, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “It’s really bad and our government thinks our lives don’t matter in prison.

“The prison clinic is no longer working, because two nurses tested positive and all other nurses are not going to work, fearing Covid-19.

“More than 20 prison officials have also tested positive - this is the story of Johannesburg Medium B.”

The source said three high-ranking officials at Johannesburg Medium A, whose positions and names are known, died recently as a result of the global pandemic.

At Tshwane’s Kgosi Mampuru, an internal note shows the prison having 28 active cases and one death, which an official said was two weeks out of date, because more people had tested positive and a colleague was buried just last week.

Nxumalo dismissed allegations of a Covid-19 outbreak in prisons.

“Fortunately, numbers do tell the truth and we do hope that objective reporting from the media can also bring these dynamics to the fore and decisively deal with the current misinformation campaign.

“We have observed with grave concern where every fatality in a correctional facility is now classified by these peddlers as Covid-19 related. They even go to an extent of publicising their images, with utter disrespect to their families,” said Nxumalo.

He said the assault allegations would be investigated as “this was a serious matter”, and that sections were decontaminated where positive cases were reported.

“No sections in any of our facilities have been closed down due to Covid-19. We have subjected our systems to continuous monitoring and evaluation.

“As the virus is moving towards the peak, the department is fully aware of the immense tasks ahead. It becomes critical that our standard operating procedures find flexible means to respond accordingly,” he said.

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