/ 1 January 2002

Commissioner ‘weaving lies’ at prison hearing

The Jali Commission investigating corruption in the Bloemfontein’s Grootvlei prison would advised to reject the testimony of Free State Commissioner Willem Damons as a whole, Advocate Vas Soni, commission investigator and evidence leader, said on Friday.

Soni on Friday cross-examined Damons at length on his alleged victimisation of Grootvlei prison chief Tatolo ”Champs” Setlai because of Setlai’s role in the making of a secret videotape exposing prison corruption.

Soni accused Damons several times of lying to the commission while giving testimony. He said that he planned to advise the commission that Damons had told them ”one lie after another”.

He also told Damons: ”All of these lies you have been weaving today has caught up with you. You have moved your position several times. Every time you do so, it becomes more precarious and you are going to fall just now”.

This comes after Soni warned Damons on Friday that he might lose his job and be criminally prosecuted if it should be found that he had lied to the commission.

Damons insisted that his national commissioner Linda Mti did not instruct him to suspend Setlai when the video came to light, but merely ordered him to ”manage the situation”.

He said he changed his mind over suspending Setlai in one night after he ”slept over the thing and reconsidered”. He denied that his revoking of Setlai’s suspension was a consequence of direct intervention by the commission’s chief investigator, Advocate Jerome Brauns.

Soni told Damons that the whole scope of the department’s internal investigation into the corruption video was aimed at alleged irregularities in the making of the video, including Setlai’s permission to the four prisoners to make the video; rather than investigating the warders implicated by the video.

According to official documentation from Damons’ office the only aim of the task team dispatched by the national commissioner of Correctional Services to Grootvlei on Damons’ request, was to investigate Setlai and not the ”crooks”.

”The events suggest that all your actions had one aim: To punish Setlai for bringing to the notice of the rest of the world what is happening in prison… The real reason for his suspension was that the department was severely embarrassed by the tape, and by suspending him you wanted to ensure that people are not allowed to do things such as this that bring the department in a bad light. The purpose was to victimise him,” Soni said.

Damons said that, in his eyes, Setlai was not a hero for his role in bringing the videotape to light. He still believed Setlai deserved to be suspended.

On Soni’s insistence Damons undertook that Setlai would not be investigated, suspended or transferred for his role in the making of the video.

The commission’s hearings on the Grootvlei video will resume on 15 July. During this session the commission is expected to handle several alleged offences by Grootvlei warders which came to light after the video was broadcast. These will include several sex crimes, and among others possibly an instance where a warder had sex with a prisoner, a commission source said.

– Sapa