A family are seeking help for an inmate at Brandvlei prison. Picture: Steve Lawrence
A family are seeking help for an inmate at Brandvlei prison. Picture: Steve Lawrence

Former gang boss prisoner 'suicidal’

By Edwin Naidu Time of article published May 16, 2021

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Edwin Naidu

The family of a former Cape Flats gang leader serving 25 years in prison for the murder of a seven-year-old boy are concerned about his fragile mental state. He was transferred from Worcester to the maximum security Helderstroom Prison in Caledon after being accused of running a Facebook account.

Tasliem “Thaliem” Bianchi, the one-time mastermind of the Junky Funky Kids gang in Parkwood, was described by his sister as “suicidal” and not knowing who to turn to for help after he was transferred from Brandvlei Correctional Centre in Worcester following the alleged misdemeanour for which he has not been charged.

Tasliem “Thaliem” Bianchi. Picture: SUPPLIED

His sister Zainunesa Abrahams told the Wits Justice Project that Bianchi has been wrongly accused of operating a Facebook account in the name of an ex-girlfriend and had allegedly communicated with a female prison official. “It’s not his account, why would he use false pretences on social media?” she asked.

Tasliem was sentenced for murder in May 2019 after Ezra Daniels was struck by a bullet from his gun which was meant for a rival gang member on September 3, 2017. He confessed to firing the shot that claimed the life of the boy and was sentenced to 25 years.

In addition, for his breach of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, Tasliem was found guilty and his sentences added up to 55 years for charges that included two attempted murder charges, the possession of ammunition and for the possession of a firearm. He will serve at least half the time as the sentences run concurrently.

But his time behind bars so far has been a living hell. “We don’t know who to turn to and feel helpless as we cannot help him at this time when he desperately needs us. We are worried about him, even to the extent that he may decide that he has nothing more to live for as his life in prison has become dismal,” Abrahams said.

A family is seeking help for an inmate at Helderstroom prison. Picture: Steve Lawrence. Picture: Henk Kruger

Last year, Bianchi’s family complained about victimisation by the prison authorities to the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) after he was charged with possession of a mobile phone. She said her brother has been victimised since JICS inadvertently sent a letter to the family concerning his treatment to the prison authorities.

Last Sunday, his sister Ilhaam visited Tasliem at Helderstroom and found him in an emotional state. “Tasliem is like a son to me as I raised him from a young age when both our parents passed away. He was not in a good space on Sunday and extremely emotional as he said that after his 10-day isolation (Covid-19 protocol), he will be moved to the C Max section where inmates are segregated,” Abrahams said.

She added that there was no substance to the claims that he had been chatting via Facebook to a female official at Brandvlei under his ex-girlfriend's name. “He was given seven days to respond to the allegations but before we could get the help of a lawyer, he was transferred to Helderstroom,” she said.

“Tasliem’s state of mind is far from okay and he was emotional when he called me yesterday. We are extremely worried about him, and as a family, we are sad that even though he is already in prison, he still has to go through this harassment.

Even to this day, we have heard nothing further from JICS as we feel it was because of their email that they forwarded to the head of Brandvlei, exposing Tasliem’s name, that he has been a target and allowed him to be victimised,” Abrahams said.

She said Tasliem had asked to be transferred to a prison closer to Cape Town since 2019 to enable his sister who is ill and family easier access when visiting him. He specifically asked not to be taken to Helderstroom.

“The prison authorities at Brandvlei delayed this process and eventually blamed it on lockdown, but we were surprised to get a phone call last Friday from him that they had transferred him to Helderstroom which is a further drive for us. We initially requested for him to be moved to Drakenstein which is a 45-minute drive instead of a two-hour drive to Helderstroom,” added Abrahams.

She said Tasliem has been victimised since the head at Brandvlei was sent an email she (Abrahams) had sent to JICS complaining about water and electricity that wasn’t available.

“There were many negative repercussions after that email and Tasliem has been victimised at Brandvlei. There have been numerous allegations against him, but he was charged for having a cellphone found in the room even though the room is shared with nine other inmates – it was only him that was charged,” she said.

Following this incident in 2019, Tasliem was charged by the prison and SAPS and had visits revoked for six weeks and told that he would be placed in segregation for 42 days but he was sent back into a communal cell after two weeks following a visit at the centre from the previous Inspecting Judge Van Der Westhuizen.

Tasliem pleaded guilty to the offence at Worcester Magistrate Court in October 2019, and an additional six months was added to his sentence.

In previous correspondence with the family, Justine Gericke, Brandvlei Directorate for Management Regions, undertook to monitor the transfer request and any incidents of victimisation.

Questions were sent to Brandvlei but not answered at the time of publishing.

However, Emerantia Cupido, the JICS spokesperson, said according to their records, a family member made an initial report on July 14, 2020, after an incident of water shortage and a power outage at Brandvlei. The incident occurred during the level 3 lockdown, which meant that JICS officials were not given access to the units, but working from the administrative offices at the centres.

Immediately after the family member reported the matter, the visitor committee coordinator responsible for the centre contacted the head of the centre. The JICS regional manager also contacted the department’s area commissioner’s office to obtain feedback on the matter. JICS received a response from DCS regarding the water shortages and electricity outages.

Cupido said that a JICS investigator was sent to the prison in July to engage with the inmate, other inmates and officials on the crisis. The report and supporting documentation are on record. The inmate was interviewed by the JICS official and informed of the outcome. The feedback of the investigation was also provided to the inmate’s family member via email in July.

Further correspondence (letter of apology) was sent in August by the Inspecting Judge due to the unfortunate release of information, and subsequently, a letter from JICS to the National Commissioner on 5 August 2020 was sent highlighting the concerns raised by the family member. The matter was also addressed via a disciplinary process with the responsible official.

No further communication was received from the family member thereafter.

It needs to be mentioned that members of the public are sometimes confused with the mandate of JICS, which is the facilitation of complaints. JICS does not have the power to transfer inmates at their request.

“We are aware that the inmate was transferred from Brandvlei to Drakenstein and recently on 6 May 2021, he was transferred again to Helderstroom. Recommendations are made and facilitation takes place between JICS and DCS officials to assist with complaints, but JICS does not have the power to enforce any recommendations, make transfers or make decisions based on parole,” she said.

* Edwin Naidu writes for the Wits Justice Project (WJP). Based in the journalism department of the University of the Witwatersrand, the WJP investigates human rights abuses and miscarriages of justice related to South Africa’s criminal justice system.

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