/ 8 July 2002

‘Video’ prison chief gets his marching orders

Prison chief Tatolo Setlai, instrumental in the disclosure of a video exposing prison corruption, may after all lose his position as head of the Grootvlei prison for his perceived role in damaging the image of his department.

In what is seen as part of an attempt by prison authorities to cover up internal corruption, Setlai has been ordered to report to a new job at the prison’s parole board on Monday morning, as recommended by a task team appointed by national commissioner of correctional services Linda Mti.

This is despite an earlier promise to the contrary by Free State commissioner of correctional services Willem Damons.

Damons two weeks ago under oath promised the presidentially appointed Jali Commission, investigating prison corruption and the Grootvlei video, that Setlai would not be transferred for his role in the making of the video.

Setlai was supposed to resume his duties at Grootvlei on Friday after a period of leave.

He was earlier ordered to first report to a meeting at the department’s provincial head office in town, where the future management of the prison would have been discussed.

Although the outcome of this meeting has been veiled in secrecy, a reliable source confirmed to Sapa that the national commissioner’s task team has recommended that Setlai be ”temporarily” transferred to the prison’s parole board.

The team apparently recommended that Grootvlei area manager Langa Bikane take over the management of the prison, while Damons adds Bikane’s current duties to his own. Mti apparently still has to ratify the recommendation.

When asked by Sapa to confirm this latest move, Damons denied that Setlai had been transferred.

He also denied any knowledge of such a recommendation by the task team.

He said he was only told by the task team to spend more time at the Grootvlei prison; and that the national commissioner knew about his (Damons’) earlier promise to the Jali Commission not to transfer Setlai.

According to Damons the recommendations of the task team would be discussed on Monday with Mti and Correctional Services Minister Ben Skosana.

Setlai earlier testified before the Jali Commission that he was surprised by the department’s attitude of trying to victimise him for tarnishing the image of the department, rather than applauding him for exposing corruption.

Setlai and Damons in the last few weeks on several occasions crossed swords before the commission and in the media. Damons allegedly ordered Setlai to destroy a videotape, made by four Grootvlei inmates, because it would ”damage the image of the department, the government, and the country as a whole, and drive investors away”. Damons repeatedly denied this.

When Damons originally ordered Setlai to report to the departmental head office after returning from leave, Setlai understood this as an order of transferral.

According to Setlai, Damons had at that time told area managers of the department that he (Setlai) would not put a foot in Grootvlei again. Damons denied this as well.

The Jali Commission hearings on Grootvlei are scheduled to resume on Monday 15 July in the High Court in Bloemfontein. – Sapa