Inmates at the K10 unit at Tswelopele Correctional Centre embarked on a hunger strike on Thursday after the prison was placed under lockdown following the death of two inmates.
INMATES at the K10 unit at Tswelopele Correctional Centre embarked on a hunger strike on Thursday (yesterday) after the prison was placed under lockdown following the death of two offenders earlier this month.
The offenders died as a result of injuries sustained following a scuffle where a prison warder was allegedly hit over the head with a padlock.
Fellow prison warders apparently intervened and assaulted other inmates who joined in the fight.
Offenders stated that the third inmate who was injured was still in hospital in a critical condition.
“Although two people died, no action has been taken against warders who were implicated in their deaths and now we are being punished for what happened. We are being provoked and are being treated as if we are the ones who killed prison warders.”
They indicated that they would remain on the hunger strike for at least three days to highlight their plight.
“We understand that we are here to serve sentences but it should be a rehabilitation centre and not a hell hole. It is horrible at this centre. We are hungry and most of us are sleeping in the unit to while away the time until the hunger strike is over. Those who are on medication or anti-retroviral treatment took their pills on an empty stomach. We feel that something has to be done to improve the conditions at this prison.”
Offenders said they were mainly confined to their cells.
“We are prohibited from taking part in group activities including group study classes for far distance learning and have not been given access to their laptops and modems for study purposes.”
They added that it was detrimental to offenders who were completing their schooling.
“Last year there was a 100 percent pass rate at the prison so this obstacle may affect the results.”
They added that they were only allowed one hour of exercise per day and were only permitted to watch television through a window.
“There is no hot water and we are forced to wash ourselves out of a bucket. We are supposed to be provided with toothbrushes but there is a short supply so we have to buy toothbrushes for inmates who can’t afford it from those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an allowance from our families..
“Our phone privileges have been withdrawn and we are not allowed to call our families. We are also dissatisfied with the prison management.”
Prison sources added that the heavy lockdown was frustrating offenders.
“Precautions had to be taken to prevent revenge attacks by inmates as threats were made that two lives of officials will be taken for every inmate that died. However inmates are becoming increasingly angry as their movement is being restricted. Tswelopele prison is a medium to high risk centre with some high profile inmates.
“Offenders who were sent to Kimberley from other provinces are far from their families and are being denied visits so they have trouble being provided with toiletries such as roll-on deodorant and female hygiene products.
“The restrictions are negatively affecting both inmates and officials and is stagnating operations. Things should not have gone so far and the hunger strike is a warning sign that something more serious may develop in the near future.”
The Department of Correctional Services has indicated that lockdown measures were implemented at Tswelopele Correctional Centre for security reasons.
Inmates stated that they had embarked on a hunger strike on Thursday in protest of lockdown restrictions that denied them from accessing the majority of their privileges.
Department of Correctional Services spokesperson Sechaba Mphahlele however denied that there was any hunger strike at the centre.
“The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has noted with great concern false reports of a hunger strike at Tswelopele Correctional Centre. We can confirm that there is no hunger strike at the centre. Inmates continue to have their meals without interruptions. We caution the media against those who are fabricating stories aimed at instigating inmates.”
He pointed out that restricting movements in a correctional centre was one of the measures put in place to ensure the safety of inmates.
“We are not at liberty to disclose such information as this may jeopardise security. We remain committed to keeping inmates in a safe and secure correctional environment.”
Mphahlele added that they were not aware of any incidents where correctional officials were threatened following the death of inmates at Tswelopele prison.
“Anyone who threatens our officials will face the full might of the law. Our officials continue to serve South Africa without fear or favour in contributing towards creating a safer South Africa.”
He indicated that the investigation into the death of the inmates was handed over to the police.
“DCS cannot comment on ongoing investigations and progress that has been made.
“DCS takes the incident which took place where two inmates lost their lives in a serious light. We have put in place an intervention plan, which included dispatching a regional task team which is mandated to ensure that the centre gets back to normalcy. Correctional officials were also put on precautionary suspension pending the finalisation of a full internal DCS investigation.”
Mphahlele added that the injured inmate was still recovering in hospital.
“The medical condition of the inmate cannot be shared with third parties, due to patient confidentiality.”
He stated that inmates were incarcerated in line with the minimum rules for the treatment of offenders, commonly referred to as the Nelson Mandela Rules
“We cannot disclose security details pertaining to what inmates are permitted to do under lockdown.”
Mphahlele acknowledged that there were challenges regarding the provision of hot water at the centre.
“DCS is working very closely with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure to ensure that hot water supply is restored soonest. The challenge is in no way connected to the recent unfortunate incident.
“All offenders are given hygiene packs when they are admitted at correctional centres and a toothbrush is part of the pack.
“There are internal processes in place which offenders are encouraged to follow when they run out of toiletries so that these could be replaced. Offenders are not encouraged to share toothbrushes for hygiene purposes.”
He added that processes were in place should offenders wish to lodge complaints or requests.
“It is the responsibility of DCS to ensure that offenders are kept in a safe and secure environment. Security measures are in place to prevent attacks and any action not in line with the Correctional Services Act. We urge the media to take necessary precautions when unsubstantiated allegations are put before them.”
Kimberley police said they were investigating two charges of murder and one charge of assault GBH following the death of two injured inmates aged 35 and 33 years on March 6, following an altercation at the prison.
Captain Tessa Jansen said it was alleged that three inmates were assaulted after a prison warder was assaulted by them.