Prison boss in soccer scam

Wally Mbhele

The commissioner of prisons, Khulekani Sithole, is apparently running a private soccer team out of his department, using its resources to finance the team.

The first division team, called Spartak, allegedly uses Pretoria Central prison as a home ground, and its coach and some of its players are on the payroll of the Department of Correctional Services.

The accusation is one of several allegations of corruption contained in a memorandum given to Deputy President Thabo Mbeki by senior staff in Sithole’s department, asking Mbeki to launch an investigation.

They also talk of poor leadership by Sithole, rampant corruption, lack of aligning prisons with human rights culture, abuse of funds and the absence of internal control mechanisms.

It is believed that the allegations are receiving attention from a special team investigating corruption in government.

Sithole is alleged to be employing a number of young soccer players at the Department of Correctional Services and the club’s coach, although it is not clear what the club coach’s precise duties in the department are.

However, sources within the department say the soccer players have a dual role. Most are based at Pretoria Central prison and receive their prison training at Sonderwater prison before returning back to soccer training. The memorandum says the auditor general is investigating the procedure used to buy “about two sets” of soccer jerseys, allegedly for the team.

The memorandum also says that more than R2-million was spent by Sithole on the department’s participation in the World Police and Fire Games, which take place every two years. It is alleged that the department paid for Sithole’s wife to accompany the team in 1997 to the games, which were held in Canada.

“This year,” says the memorandum, “the board of trustees approved of only 66 staff members who’ll participate in the event. The commissioner has unilaterally added 40 more participants to the total cost of more than R1-million.”

What also emerges in the memorandum is that Sithole is a globe-trotter. Hardly a month passes without him taking an “official” trip abroad. From May last year until last month, Sithole has apparently undertaken several trips abroad at a cost of more than R176 484. Between May 13 and 23 last year, he visited Israel and Dubai. From June 27 to July 4, he went to Canada. The following month, he spent four days in Florida before travelling around the United States from December 6 to 15. He went back to Canada in March this year and visited Hungary, Israel and Michigan before returning to Canada again in September. He went to California in November.

Finally, Sithole has just returned from an expensive holiday in Israel and Frankfurt. Departmental sources say the department paid part of Sithole’s holiday expenses as he sought permission from the minister that while on holiday, “he may also perform some official duties”.

Furthermore, Sithole has embarked on a single-handed transformation that involves the transfer of talented personnel to areas they have little knowledge of and to positions for which they don’t qualify. It is alleged in the memorandum that a KwaZulu-Natal head of a prison, suspended by former minister of correctional services Sipo Mzimela while under investigation for allegedly killing an inmate, has been promoted by Sithole.

KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Commissioner Thembile Ntoni, who is credited with tremendously reducing escapes, calming down prison violence and resolving labour relations conflicts, has been transferred to the Eastern Cape.

Corporate planning strategist Lucky Mathebula, who was the first to establish the departmental strategy for transformation, was without prior notice moved to Leeuwkop prison, where he was appointed the area manager.

Mathebula – described in the memorandum as a talented, dedicated and intelligent fast tracker – has no previous record of managing a prison. As a result, he has decided to resign.

Deputy director general of human resource management, Thandi Kgosidintsi, has been transferred to the position of KwaZulu-Natal provincial commissioner although she does not have any previous experience for the job. The memorandum lists more than 10 similar transfers of officials in the department.

“Although the Department of Public Service and Administration has decentralised staff appointments since 1996, the commissioner [Sithole] has centralised all appointments of assistant director upwards, which accords his office a lot of power to reward loyalty and renders provincial commissioners ineffective.

“The purpose of this memorandum,” write the authors of the document, “is to alert the Office of the Deputy President to the crisis of leadership that currently exists in the Department of Correctional Services and to make a recommendation on how to handle the untenable state of affairs.

“The running theme of government after 1994 is that of the value of human dignity and investment in human development. As we understand the prescripts of the Constitution, people confined in correctional institutions should therefore be prepared for reintegration back to society whilst maintaining their basic human rights.

“The existing practice in the department is that of locking people up in a security-tight fashion is more important than investment in rehabilitation programmes. In this major paradigm, disparity with the spirit of the Constitution has contributed to the chaos, misdirection and self-serving leadership much in line with the practices of the previous regime.”

At the time of going to press, the Department of Correctional Services was unable to comment as Sithole was away on vacation.

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