Prisons union plans march in Pretoria

Trade unions are gearing up for a march in Pretoria on Thursday to protest staff shortages in prisons.

At a press briefing in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) president Zizamele Cebekhulu said the Department of Correctional Services has thus far failed to address the issues of prisoner overcrowding and staff shortages.

“This may culminate into instability affecting the entire department,” he warned.

Cebekhulu said prisons are meant to accommodate 114 000 inmates, but are currently housing 187 000.

He said the department has also lost 1 000 employees in the past year.

“This situation has compromised the safety and security in our prisons. This further defeats any chance of rehabilitation.”

Though the union is in talks with the department over ways of resolving the problem, it will embark on a national strike if discussions fail.

South African Prisoners’ Organisation for Human Rights (Sapohr) president Golden Miles Budhu called on Sapohr members to prepare memoranda and petitions to be handed over to the department on Thursday.

“We would appreciate if these demands were met within the next 14 days, otherwise we will call for rolling mass action.”

Congress of South African Trade Unions spokesperson Patrick Craven said the current staffing levels at prisons endanger all South Africans.

“If prison security falls below a certain level, it affects every South African.”

He hopes the current round of talks will result in a solution.

“We hope sense will prevail and a solution [can] be found.
However, should talks fail, we will mobilise our members.”

Popcru is also incensed by the fact that South Africa’s two private prisons use up 50% of the department’s budget.

Cebekhulu said warders employed at the Mangaung Maximum Security prison in Bloemfontein and the one in Makhado in Limpopo earn higher salaries than warders at state prisons do.

“They use up 50% of the budget and they earn more than warders at the public prisons.”

The other concern raised by Popcru is the remilitarisation of the department.

Cebekhulu said the department did this without consulting the union.

“The rank insignia has been reintroduced. This military culture does not allow people to think or encourage new ideas. The military culture is that they will think for you. We don’t need this.”—Sapa

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