Parliamentarians hear warders’ woes

Warders at Krugersdorp Prison told parliamentarians on Thursday their colleagues might have used excessive force when three inmates died after assaults that took place behind the walls.

An oversight committee that spoke to both warders and inmates following the weekend incidents said warders were deeply sorry about what had happened.

”Some were literally crying. They will need counselling. It was pathetic,” said Kgoshi Mokoena, chairperson of the select committee on security and constitutional affairs in the National Council of Provinces.

He and the chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on correctional services, Dennis Bloem, told reporters at a press conference on Thursday that inmates had spoken of a fight between members of the Big Five gang and the Twenty Eight gang, followed by the stabbing of a warder, which led to the alleged assault that resulted in the deaths of three inmates.

Bloem said it concerned the committee that correctional services staff had not searched and disarmed inmates after the first of the attacks, which took place on the Saturday of Easter weekend.

The weapons used were knives made from sharpened spoons.

The section in which the incident took place was 180% overcrowded, which was a huge source of frustration for warders, especially on weekends when there was only a skeleton staff.

Bloem also told of how warders said inmates came into prison holding great disrespect for the staff.

”Staff said to us that people in prison are not from a Sunday school. These people have committed a lot of crimes outside.”

However, he and Mokoena strongly condemned the assaults that led to the deaths.

”We cannot condone or sugar-coat the incident. We cannot accept that members of our society are being killed, especially at the hands of people who are supposed to rehabilitate and protect.”

Six warders were arrested and are on bail of R1 000 each.

Bloem added that the parliamentarians would give the department and police a chance to finish their investigation.

”After that we will call parliamentarians to table their reports to their committees.”

They would then make recommendations in Parliament, not only with the intention of addressing issues at Krugersdorp prison.

Stressing that the parliamentarians’ visits to prisons were ”not a jolly ride”, Bloem said they had resulted in some reduction in overcrowding.

”There has been movement. Non-governmental organisations and community-based organisations have been involved in trying to find a solution.” — Sapa

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