Siya, a 15-year-old prison commodity

“All the people inside wanted to eat him like they did. I don’t know how many men [raped him], but it was messy.”

A formidable, broad woman, Ma Khambule* allows her eyes to water just a little as she recounts the pain of discovering that her 15-year-old son, Siya*, was allegedly raped “many, many times” at Durban’s Westville Prison last month.

Siya is alleged to have stolen a pair of trousers worth R49 from a Woolworths store in Durban. Derrick Mdluli of the Justice for Prisoners and Detainees Trust (JPDT) says youngsters in Westville prison can be sold for as little as R50 by corrupt warders.

Siya was initially released into Khambule’s custody, but was re-arrested after failing to appear for a subsequent court hearing and ordered to be detained with other awaiting-trial prisoners at Westville.

Khambule says that for almost two weeks prison officials weren’t able to find her son: “Derrick [Mdluli] helped find him. They told me my son wasn’t with the other youths because he was sick. Then they told me they couldn’t find him,” she says.

“I cried and screamed when I [finally] saw him. He was weak, he couldn’t talk and people had to help him walk — I was hurt, until now I am still hurt. He was the only one of my children who would help me.”

While the Correctional Services Department has reportedly identified one culprit, promising “disciplinary action”, the rape raises major questions about how a juvenile ended up in the Medium B facility for dangerous prisoners.

Mdluli alleges corruption among prison officials: “Prisoners, young boys especially, are on sale for sex at Westville. You point somebody out to a warder, pay them and they will make sure your cell is unlocked that night,” he says.

While investigations by the departments of justice, correctional services and the provincial Department of Social Development are under way to establish how Siya ended up in Medium B, a civil case for damages is also pending.

“The boy has suffered severe psychological trauma; we may claim for future mental services,” said Karina du Toit, an attorney at the Centre for Child Law, who is preparing the case.

Du Toit said government departments had been “prompt” in responding to the rape incident, offering medical services to the juvenile. But it was the centre, with an eye on the civil case, that organised medical help. It has not been ascertained if Siya has contracted HIV.

“From the time he stepped into court, the system failed him. Instead of being housed at the prison’s youth facility, he ended up in a Medium B cell with sentenced prisoners. That’s very suspicious,” said Du Toit.

On what made her son steal a pair of pants worth R49, Khambule, who collects glass for recycling, waves an arm around her three-room cement brick home: the walls are bare, furniture minimal and there is no electricity or running water. “We have nothing,” she says.

* The names of the victim and his mother have been changed

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Niren Tolsi
Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist whose interests include social justice, citizen mobilisation and state violence, protest, the Constitution and Constitutional Court, football and Test cricket.

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