Hostage drama at Zonderwater prison

Surviving offenders, who held four Zonderwater prison staff hostage on Sunday, have been taken to Pretoria’s C-Max high security prison, a source in the Zonderwater prison said.

“They are not here anymore and I have heard that Ngobese, the leader, is dead. He had a firearm,” control room operator Solomon Masilela told the South African Press Association (Sapa).

“They tried to escape, but they failed,” he said, in response to a Sapa telephone call to the prison’s switchboard.

Masilela said that the eight-hour hostage drama was the worst experience of his tenure at Zonderwater, near Cullinan, since he started working there in 1988.

“The situation was bad; the worst I have seen.”

Four prisoners, one of whom was armed, held up four warders in the hospital section of Zonderwater prison, at about 11.15am.

“The offenders were being escorted from another section to the hospital, which they call Charlie 2, when they grabbed the warder at the hospital gate,” Masilela said.

“They tied his hands with wire, and knocked down other warders too,” he said.

He said the ringleader, Ngobese, was already armed.

“We don’t know where he got the gun,” he said.

“It was definitely an attempt to escape, but they couldn’t get it right,” he said.

Masilela said the rumour doing the rounds in the prison that the situation had started to improve once Ngobese was disarmed and shot dead.

“He was the leader of the offenders. Four of them were involved, but it got better when they disarmed him.”

He said a warder had been taken to hospital with two bullet wounds in the chest.

“He was shot in front of his body,” he said.

Masilela confirmed that there were security personnel in the prison wearing camouflage uniforms and “the SAPS was available too”.

He said the prison started to calm down at around 7.15pm.

“The situation is under control now,” he said at 8pm.

Meanwhile, Department of Correctional Services officials confirmed earlier that a crisis at Zonderwater prison near Cullinan was sparked by an attempted escape by offenders.

“This is an extremely sensitive security matter,” Manelisi Wolela, the department’s spokesman, said in an sms.

The police and officials from the correctional services were “jointly handling the matter”, he said.

Wolela would not confirm radio reports that a prison official had been killed nor that there was a hostage situation at the prison.

After sending the sms, Wolela said he would not comment any further about the matter.

“I’m not taking further questions on this matter,” he said.

Wolela said he would not confirm or deny whether a person had been killed.

South African Broadcasting Corporation radio news reported that an official at the prison had been shot and killed.

Earlier on Sunday, Wolela said the police and officials from his department should be allowed time to deal with the matter.

“The situation is tense but it is being managed by the SAPS and Correctional Services,” he said.
- Sapa

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