Inside the brazen prison break at Kgosi Mampuru

Gross negligence and severe understaffing led to the daring prison break of two extremely dangerous criminals at what was supposed to be the secure Kgosi Mampuru centre in Tshwane. 

These are the allegations from correctional services officials, who accused the department of not finalising its investigation, which began in 2019, into alleged understaffing and employee incompetence at Kgosi Mampuru that led to suspicious inmate deaths and escapes. 

This comes as the Mail & Guardian exclusively received pictures from inside the prison cells of Thabo Zacharia Muyambo and Johannes Chauke, showing how the two had opened up gaping holes by removing the brick walls to flee the correctional centre. Both inmates escaped on Wednesday

Muyambo was serving 21 years for various crimes, including rape and kidnapping, while Chauke had a 20-year sentence for housebreaking crimes. 

The images from their respective cells show a mini-construction site, with bricks and other rubble strewn across the floors, revealing that both escapees grafted to flee Kgosi Mampuru. 

A highly placed Kgosi Mampuru insider, who asked to remain anonymous, alleged that a dire staff shortage made it impossible for all posts to be patrolled. The source alleged that the facility had only 12 guards to secure the central section after 20 prison officials had died or resigned and had not been replaced.  

“The unit they [the escapees] slept in has been without lights for months; it was as dark as coal, and maintenance only fixed the lights on Wednesday. What is worse is that the escapees’ unit is a quarantine site, so regular searching was not conducted for fear of Covid-19 and quarantined inmates. 

“If officials were patrolling and checking that quarantine section, they would have noticed all the digging and burrowing in the cells since it doesn’t look like it was a day’s job,” the source said.

Inmates who spoke on condition of anonymity said they had tried in vain to alert officials to the daring escape as they could see both Muyambo and Chauke abseiling down from their cells using a mixture of bedding and clothing, among other items. 

However, correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo rubbished some of these claims and said an investigation would reveal the true reasons for the escape. 

“We must note with concern the outrageous allegations being made, which could also be defined to be sensational. The investigation is expected to reveal and answer all questions surrounding the escape: how it happened, why, who was involved, what was not done properly and all other answers that are needed to solve the case,” Nxumalo said. 

“The department will leave no stone unturned in solving this matter and all other cases that may involve negligence.”

Meanwhile, another correctional services insider, who also asked to remain anonymous, said that both escapees were supposed to be at the maximum security section and not at the medium one. He added that the department had to account for why long-term prisoners were not kept where they were supposed to be. 

The source added that an investigation into negligent and incompetent staff was carried out in 2019 after at least 10 suspicious inmate deaths between June 2018 and October 2019. 

These deaths included the suicide in October 2019 of a mentally ill inmate, who was isolated after allegedly assaulting Chris Hani’s murderer, Janusz Walus, a month earlier. It has been alleged that officials would not respond when inmates shouted after lock-up when one of their own was ill or committing suicide.

Nxumalo confirmed that an investigation was underway, but that it had yet to be completed. 

“Both the internal and South African Police Service investigations have not been completed. The findings of the internal investigation may be made public without sharing details of internal processes or procedures,” Nxumalo told the M&G.

On allegations of understaffing and officials’ negligence, Nxumalo said: “The findings of the internal investigation will reveal whether there was staff shortage at the time of the escape or not. If so, the investigation will make necessary recommendations to remedy the challenge. 

He added: “The department will continue to do all possible to curb future escape attempts.”

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