/ 1 January 2002

Lifting the lid on prison corruption

A warder at Bloemfontein’s Grootvlei prison accused of sexually assaulting a juvenile prisoner was still in the service of the department, the Jali Commission heard on Wednesday.

The commission, investigating corruption at the prison, was told that the juvenile had allegedly been sexually assaulted by a different warder while the hearings had been going on.

Advocate Vas Soni, the commission investigator and evidence leader, said he had a statement by a juvenile prisoner alleging sexual assaults by a warder still employed by the department.

The warder had as a safety measure merely been transferred to a different section of the department. Several juvenile inmates had in the past complained about being sexually assaulted by him, Soni said.

He said the victim was allegedly assaulted by a different warder on June 26.

Soni accused acting head of the prison Langa Bikane of ”fiddling while Rome is burning”, and not concentrating on correcting pressing issues such as sexual abuse of juvenile prisoners.

”If you did address these things, this young man might have been spared the agony of another assault,” Soni told Bikane.

Bikane testified that the accused warder had been re-deployed to the community corrections section of the department in Bloemfontein and was not permitted to enter the prison.

Bikane denied any knowledge of the latest assault on the juvenile and said it was embarrassing for him to hear of it only now, as he was available to hear prisoners’ complaints about incidents such as these.

Soni called it an indictment of the system and told Bikane that he would like him to be present ”when he (the youth) cries when he tells us (the commission) about this”.

Commission chairman Judge Thabani Jali and commissioner Esther Steyn questioned why Grootvlei prison chief Tatolo Setlai had been suspended for his role in the making of a video exposing prison corruption, while this warder, accused of a serious crime, had not been suspended.

”To the man in the street, this would give the impression that the department does not deal effectively with corruption,” Steyn said.

Meanwhile, Setlai indicated he would turn to the High Court in a bid to be re-instated as Grootvlei prison chief.

Setlai was moved to the position of chairman of the Grootvlei parole board in what he perceived as victimisation for exposing corruption in the department. He complained to the commission about this.

Bikane, the former area manager of Grootvlei, on Wednesday admitted in cross-examination by Soni that Setlai’s transfer was unfair. He said his transfer to the position of acting prison head and the transfer of Setlai were in effect demotions.

He told the commission he was ”caught in the middle” by Setlai’s transfer and did not know who to believe or challenge about it.

In a performance evaluation in March, Bikane gave Setlai a mark of 80%, which was above average.

He testified that an earlier decision to suspend Setlai, shortly after the broadcasting of the video, was not in line with his own view and was rather the decision of provincial commissioner Willem Damons and his advisors.

This was contrary to earlier evidence by Damons.

Bikane felt action should have been taken against the implicated warders in the video before Setlai was suspended for flouting departmental policy.

”The flouting of policy should have been given lower priority,” Bikane said. – Sapa