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Treason trial 11 on hunger strike over ‘unequal treatment’

Attorneys acting for the group, held in Cape Town's Pollsmoor Prison, have told the Commissioner of Prisons that their clients "are unable to accept that although involved in the same trial, they are nonetheless separated by racial criteria". Their segregation was also making preparation for their trial – which resumes in the Cape Supreme Court on July 5 – more difficult.

Family members said this week the group would continue their water only fasts until their demands were met. They began their hunger strike on Tuesday – Republic Day. Their demands are spelled out in a letter from their attorneys to the Commissioner of Prisons. Grievances raised by the trialists since they arrived at the prison on March 15, after being held incommunicado for three to six months,are also detailed. These include:

  • Rough handling by warders in the "black male" section of the prison after their arrival, when dogs were used in moving them to single cons.
  • The isolation of trialists who claim they were given no explanation for what they considered unjustified punishment.
  • Unreasonable" demands that trialists in the "black male" section be off their sleeping mats by 5.30am, a rule previously unenforced.
  • Alleged assaults as trialists were moved to punishment cells, apparently because they failed to comply. Two trialists who were recovering from serious injuries were subsequently taken to hospital.
  • A body search carried out on a four-year-old child when he visited his parents, Tony Sithembiso Yengeni, 33, and Lumka Nyamza.
  • Arbitrary, irregular" exercise.
  • Grievances about the cells, food and the "attitude of warders".

The letter followed several meetings between attorneys and prison authorities, including the officer commanding Pollsmoor. After some "initial improvement . . . our clients complained conditions had not improved" and "expressed a lack of confidence in the prison's complaint channels" – as well as frustration at what they saw as an "uncaring response to reasonable requests", it states.

Elsie Schreiner, immediate past president of the National Council of Women, said her daughter, Jenny, in the "white female" section, was allowed out of her cell for most of the day, had contact with other prisoners and got salt with her food. Lumka Nyamza, in the "black female" section, enjoyed none of these privileges and had to eat and exercise on her own. Family members described prison visits on Wednesday, saying the trialists, who have refused food brought from outside for two weeks, were looking unwell and had lost weight. Christine Kruser, mother of Gary Kruger, 27, broke down and could not continue speaking.

* A statement by the Department of Prisons did not arrive in time to meet an agreed deadline. It will be run next week.  

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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