Warders in court over violent prison deaths

Six warders from Krugersdorp Prison appeared in the town’s magistrate’s court on Monday in connection with the deaths of three inmates over the weekend.

The six men were granted bail of R1 000 each and are due to reappear in court on June 1, said Department of Correctional Services spokesperson Manelisi Wolela. “The men are expected to be asked to plead then, and only then will we release their names,” Wolela said.

The warders have been suspended with immediate effect. “The length of suspension depends on the court and internal proceedings.
The Constitution is clear ... until proven guilty, they are innocent, so they have been suspended with pay,” he said.

The men are alleged to have seriously assaulted the prisoners on Saturday night after an apparent gang fight. The prisoners were taken to hospital, but died shortly afterwards.

Wolela identified the prisoners as Simphiwe Tshabalala (28), from Queenstown in the Eastern Cape; Patrick Nxumalo (36), from Soweto in Johannesburg; and Dudu Maqhiwa (35), from Steynsburg in the Eastern Cape.

Tshabalala was serving a 24-month sentence for assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, Nxumalo was serving a 463-day sentence for breaking his parole conditions, and Maqhiwa was serving five years for malicious damage to property and theft.

Another prisoner who was also assaulted was still recovering in hospital on Monday afternoon, said the head of the Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons, Judge Nathan Erasmus.

Prison visit

Erasmus and the Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, Loretta Jacobus, visited the prison on Sunday and Monday.

Erasmus said on Monday that he spoke to other inmates and to the police “to get an idea of what was going on”. “We observed the places where the incident allegedly happened ... As things stand now, the SAPS [South African Police Service] are investigating a case of murder.”

He also sent senior members of his staff to the prison on Monday morning. “They were interviewing prisoners, but also besides the deaths, they were looking at the whole general condition [of the prison],” Erasmus said. “I have had feedback. They will continue with their work tomorrow [Tuesday] and Wednesday and then get back to me.”

Erasmus said his staff were not investigating, but merely gathering information that could help the police and the department in their investigations.

“The information will be collated after Wednesday and I will then make my decision on what role to take. We will pass the information on to the SAPS to conclude their investigation.”

He said the incident is seen in a very serious light and that those who committed the crime must face the law.

Wolela said the department is taking steps to debrief officials and offenders at the Krugersdorp Correctional Centre and provide them with appropriate counselling and support. Security at the prison was tightened to prevent retaliatory attacks and to ensure the safety of everyone at the prison.

On Monday, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) condemned the assault of the prisoners. “But we want to point out that overcrowding in our prisons is making it difficult for officials to provide adequate security,” Popcru spokesperson Pat Ntsobi said. “It is about time that government should pay particular attention to overcrowding, security and staffing in prisons.”

Ntsobi said the union is certain that the departmental investigation into the deaths will point to the same issues. “Inmates are in prison for rehabilitation, not to be killed,” he said.—Sapa

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