/ 5 January 2021

Escapees still at large amid negligence allegations at Tshwane prison

No one was injured when a Mangaung prison official was rescued from a hostage situation at the correctional centre.
Kgosi Mampuru sources claimed that negligence was rife at the facility, resulting in the suspicious deaths of inmates, as well as the brazen escape of 9 December 2020. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Dangerous escaped criminals have been roaming the streets for more than three weeks, after authorities failed to capture two violent offenders who fled from Tshwane’s supposedly secure Kgosi Mampuru centre. 

The Mail & Guardian has established that cell 45 on floor A1 of the prison, from which Thabo Zacharia Muyambo and Johannes Chauke fled, still has the gaping hole used as an exit point by the duo. 

Muyambo was serving 21 years for various violent crimes, including rape and kidnapping; Chauke had a 20-year sentence for housebreaking crimes. They both escaped on 9 December.

After the daring escape, Kgosi Mampuru insiders compiled a report for the M&G. The report detailed at least 10 gruesome and allegedly negligent deaths at the prison between June 2018 and October 2019. The department of correctional services confirmed that these deaths were being investigated.  

These shocking deaths include that of an inmate with suspected mental health problems, whose name is known to the M&G. This inmate hung and killed himself in June 2018 on his seventh suicide attempt — about five days after he tried to jump off the prison building. A picture seen by the M&G shows the inmate hanging by his prison bedsheets. 

Kgosi Mampuru sources claimed that negligence was rife at the facility, resulting in the suspicious deaths of inmates (including those with suspected mental health concerns), as well as the brazen escape of 9 December 2020. 

“The health of inmates is not prioritised in this centre, as it has been seen in many occasions where the [prison] hospital would secure a date for an inmate with an outside hospital [and] the prison does not honour those appointments,” the sources said.

“The prison authorities would make excuses, ranging from a shortage of officials [and] security reasons, [to the] absence of transport, [saying that it] can only allocate transportation for emergency cases and the rest would have to ask the nurses to secure another appointment. The prison authorities’ failure to honour inmates’ external hospital appointments is the biggest contributing factor that leads inmates to default on their medication,” the sources added. 

They added that an investigation into the deaths had been “intentionally stalled” by correctional services management to conceal the officials’ alleged negligence. 

Last month, correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo confirmed to the M&G that his department was conducting a probe into the alleged negligent deaths in tandem with the South African Police Service, and that the investigation had yet to be completed. 

This week, Nxumalo rejected contentions that the correctional services department was intentionally stalling the investigation into deaths at Kgosi Mampuru. 

“You cannot intentionally stall an investigation, as different offices are conducting it. The judicial inspectorate also investigates cases of unnatural deaths for correctional services. A strong assertion on ‘negligence’ by your inquiry is misleading and designed to frame a negative connotation on the department’s name. 

“Our response was clear in saying, should there be a case of negligence, such will be dealt with. It never confirmed a negligence case as you will require an investigation to reach that particular finding,” Nxumalo said. 

Gauteng police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters referred all queries to correctional services, including those on the progress of re-arresting the two escaped convicts. 

Meanwhile, an insider aware of December’s escape said this week that the prison cell from which Muyambo and Chauke fled had yet to be cleaned and the escape hole closed, more than three weeks after the incident. 

Several insiders blamed severe understaffing and negligent patrolling for allowing the two criminals to chisel through the brick walls and abseil to freedom using clothing and prison bedding, among other items, without being detected. 

“Cell 45 has still not been fixed. All they [prison authorities] did was to lock it but not clean it. There is still the huge hole in the wall, and the rubble is still in the cell,” said a source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

The M&G received pictures of the cell from which Muyambo and Chauke escaped. The cell resembles a construction site, with bricks, rubble and dust strewn across the floor and the beds. 

Another source said this showed that the breaking of the wall did not occur overnight but over days or weeks, with the insider adding that better patrolling would have detected the master escape plan. 

Nxumalo confirmed that authorities were still trying to track down the criminals and that events surrounding their escape were being probed. 

“The two escapees are still at large, and we are still searching for them. Findings on the investigation can only be provided once it has been completed. 

“This will also talk to possible cases of negligence, which can only be confirmed by the report, in case [it is] prevalent,” Nxumalo said.