/ 1 January 2002

Grootvlei whistle-blowers’ lives are in danger

The four Grootvlei Prison inmates who videotaped their warders selling drugs, alcohol, firearms and juvenile ”sex slaves” to inmates have been given 24-hour protection, SABC news reported on Wednesday.

According to the SABC, this follows an allegation made by inmate Samuel Grobbelaar that one of the warders was trying to kill him.

Grobbelaar said a prisoner attacked him with a chain and cracked his head open while another prisoner produced poison and said the warder had given it to him so he could kill Grobbelaar.

SABC news reported that the poison was given to Tatolo Setlai, the head of Grootvlei prison, who confirmed the allegations and said measures were in place to protect the four. Setlai also said tests had confirmed that the substance was indeed poison.

Meanwhile the Correctional Services Ministry announced on Wednesday that warders filmed selling illicit substances and juvenile ”sex slaves” to prisoners were to be suspended.

Correctional Services representative Tsoeu Ntsane said on Wednesday about 22 warders would be affected, ”although the exact number is difficult to determine from the video”.

He said Correctional Services Minister Ben Skosana had ordered the transfer of the four inmates to another Free State prison before the end of the day.

Ntsane said the warders had to be given written notice and 24 hours to respond before they could be suspended. The suspensions should become effective before the end of the week.

He could not say whether the warders would be suspended with or without pay, as this would be determined by the departmental team.

Ntsane denied rumours that the department was considering suspending prison head Setlai, who gave permission for the video to be made.

”The minister regards this as an act that must be commended.”

Senior Superintendent Sam Sesing of the Free State police said a warder was under investigation after the tape allegedly showed him selling a firearm to a prisoner.

”There is also a possibility of other cases to be investigated as a result of the information on the video,” he said.

Political parties and analysts on Wednesday expressed shock at the revelations.

”The video footage (is) an indication of the complete breakdown of the basic operational functions of prisons in the country” the United Democratic Movement said in a statement.

The party called for the implicated warders to be barred from the prison premises to protect witnesses.

The Democratic Alliance said the activities at Grootvlei could not be assumed to be isolated incidents.

”The group of prisoners who worked on the video must be praised for coming forward with this evidence,” the DA said.

The party called for juveniles sold for sex to be given psychological counselling and medical treatment in protective custody. It urged Skosana to give a commitment that others would not be subjected to similar abuse.

Both parties, and the Freedom Front, backed Setlai’s actions and said he should not be punished.

Prisons researcher KC Goyer said she was appalled by footage showing a prisoner paying a juvenile for sex. The youngster was delivered to the older man’s cell by a warder, who had fetched him from the awaiting-trial section.

”This is extremely high-risk behaviour,” Goyer said. ”That child’s life is in danger.”

There was a need for independent monitoring and public scrutiny of prisons, she said.

According to Institute for Security Studies senior researcher Makubetse Sekhonyane, it was difficult to say if the video material was representative of what happened in other prisons.

”I was shocked by what I saw, but not altogether surprised.”

He blamed an apparent lack of willingness by the authorities to earnestly do something about corruption.

”You can have as many systems in place and as many units to investigation corruption — if there is no willingness from management and competent personnel to implement those policies, they will come to nothing.”

Sekhonyane said many corrupt warders perceived the system to be slow. ”By the time they have been caught out for their third crime, they would already have committed the fifth.”

Staff also had little regard for internal disciplinary measures, and did not perceive them as a deterrent to crime.

Poor salaries were not necessarily the reason for being prone to corruption, he said. A more likely reason was the appointment of under-qualified and unsuitable staff.

The video was a good thing in that it might shock authorities into action.

”People will expect to see something being done,” Sekhonyane concluded. – Sapa