/ 1 January 2002

Don’t shoot the messengers, say prisoners

Prisoners who made a secret video exposing corruption in Bloemfontein’s Grootvlei prison threatened on Tuesday to withdraw their co-operation from investigators because of perceived victimisation by the Department of Correctional Services for making the video.

The prisoners told the Jali Commission, which is investigating the corruption, that it was impossible for them to co-operate with an investigating task team dispatched by national commissioner of correctional services Linda Mti unless the department changed its ”negative” attitude towards inmates involved in the making of the video.

Gayton McKenzie, representative for the video makers, told the commission that the task team had all along not been investigating the contents of the video, but rather the prisoners who made the video and their modus operandi.

McKenzie alleged that the reason for this was that the department wanted to see to it that no similar videos exposing corruption were being made in other prisons.

In cross-examination by director Philemon Mohoje, leader of the national task team and top management member of the national department of correctional services, McKenzie told Mohoje that he (McKenzie) would never be rehabilitated unless people like Mohoje were removed from their positions in the running of the department.

McKenzie, who has been in jail for the past six years, also told Mohoje that his department had no future.

McKenzie on Tuesday gave lengthy testimony about the perceived victimisation of the video makers by prison authorities. He told the commission that it had started after the arrival of the

national task team at Grootvlei.

The task team never approached the video makers for their help in the investigation and members of the team never even introduced themselves to the prisoners who had made the video.

”We feel they are fighting us. I will definitely not co-operate with them if they continue to treat us in the manner they are now. They should change their attitude. ”There is no mutual trust between us and them. I believe they do not want us to co-operate, because they want to see these people (corrupt warders) go free,” McKenzie said.

He told the commission that he and his fellow prisoners had decided on Sunday night to withdraw their co-operation from the commission because of their ”victimisation”, but had reversed that decision on Monday after being persuaded to do so by his mother, and his lawyer Nico Naude.

Commissioner Esther Steyn told McKenzie the department needed their testimony in disciplinary hearings to get rid of corrupt warders.

McKenzie complained that he and his fellow video makers had been consuming only bread and soft drinks for the past 10 days because they feared being poisoned by gang members enraged at their exposure of corruption.

They refused to eat food from the prison kitchen because gang members could very easily see to it that their food was spiked with poison. Meat brought in for them by inmate Samuel Grobbelaar’s mother had been confiscated.

The four video makers were buying two, two-litre bottles of soft drinks daily from the prison canteen and ate only bread. Other prisoners involved in the making of the video were living on canned food bought from a kitty they had each contributed R200 to, McKenzie testified.

He also complained that he and the other prisoners involved in the making of the video had since lost their prison jobs and monitor status, which accorded them certain privileges.

Langa Bikane, acting head of Grootvlei prison, testified that the monitor status and jobs of all Grootvlei prisoners were revised on his instruction in an effort to restore order at the institution.

McKenzie also said corruption was even worse in other prisons in South Africa. He and his fellow inmates had been inmates in several other prisons and they had concluded that it would have taken a mere week to capture on film the same amount of corruption in some other prisons that had been recorded over four months at Grootvlei.

Meanwhile, national task team and chief investigator Jerome Brauns of the Jali Commission was still locked in negotiation over the transfer of Tatolo Setlai from his position as prison chief to

the Grootvlei parole board.

Setlai, who perceived the transfer as victimisation by the department for his role in the revelation of the video, had complained to commission investigators about it. He had agreed to withhold his formal complaint until Wednesday for Brauns and the task team to come to a negotiated agreement on the matter.

Setlai is on leave until 29 July. The commission hearing will continue on Wednesday in the

Bloemfontein High Court. – Sapa