Westville prisoner's politics pay off in perks
Transcripts from a meeting between correctional services personnel in KwaZulu-Natal show that there was a politically motivated plan to give prisoner and former ANC henchman Russell Ngubo special treatment.
The transcripts, from meetings in January between Mfanafuthi Nxumalo, the head of Medium B at Westville Prison, provincial commissioner Mnikelwa Nxele and Durban area commissioner Hento Davids, concern Shakes Cele, an ANC parliamentarian, who allegedly called Nxele about granting Ngubo special privileges.
On Thursday, however, Cele denied putting pressure on Nxele to treat Ngubo well, although he admitted to speaking to him "all the time".
Ngubo, who for a long time had a TV in his cell, was allowed to visit the bank in civilian clothes and have access to fresh food from his family, and was central to plans to have Nxumalo transferred to another prison, apparently because he had objected to Ngubo's preferential treatment.
Ngubo, himself a former prison boss and erstwhile high-ranking member of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, has been behind bars since 2005 for his role in the deaths of two Inkatha Freedom Party members in KwaZulu-Natal in the same year. Owing to his ANC pedigree – stemming from his time as a feared recruiter for the party in the 1990s – Ngubo reportedly enjoys a lavish prison life, including exemption from roll call and access to a cellphone.
Pillar of the centre
However, Nxumalo will not be moved to another prison. This week, the Labour Court found that Nxele and Davids, among others, were in contempt of a February court order directing that Nxumalo remain in his post. They had wanted him moved to Pietermaritzburg.
Three weeks ago, commissioner Nxele told the Mail & Guardian that Nxumalo was being transferred as he was a "pillar of the centre" and "one of the people I count on to go and fix centres [such as Pietermaritzburg's Medium A prison] where there are things going wrong". He said nearly 50 people were being transferred for reasons of "internal stability".
If nothing more, the transcripts, from recordings Nxumalo made of at least three meetings in January, appear to confirm Nxele's concessions to Ngubo and the possibility that political pressure emanated from more than one source.
In one conversation between Davids, Nxele and Nxumalo, Nxele says: "It's troubling me because I'm getting political pressure … [about how Ngubo] is being treated. [He] will phone politicians at the slightest thing and I get a call either … maybe it will be Bathabile Dlamini, minister of social development, maybe it will be Shakes Cele, the member of the portfolio committee …"
Later in the conversation, Nxele appears to be unsure whether he was called by Dlamini, saying that maybe it could be "another Bathabile".
In another part of the transcript, Nxele pledges his political allegiance to Ngubo: "There's a part in me that says, 'Hey, I've struggled with this person, I acknowledge that. I can't deny the fact that, you know, I went to detention with him.'"
He also defends his decision to allow Ngubo to visit the bank.