South African prisoners riot for a ‘mass release’, citing Covid-19

Whereas President Cyril Ramaphosa already released 19 000 inmates out of a total prison population of 155 000 in May this year, prisoners in Gauteng province are rioting for another mass release. They claim that they are at risk of the Covid-19 virus that has already cause a number of deaths among both warders and prisoners.

One of the prisons where riots have been noted, is the vicious “Sun City” prison in Soweto, ironically nick-named after the famous casino and hotel complex in the former homeland of Bophutatswana.

The country’s Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has declines to react to their demands, saying that the riots are being “orchestrated… by unruly elements intent on forcing the government into a mass release of prisoners”

Prisoners are alleging that not all of the 19 000 “low-risk inmates” have been freed, following upon Ramaphosa’s parole announcement. According to them, overcrowding is still at 30% in all prisons. Despite a rise in South African crime rates and convictions since the ANC regime took over, the regime has not built any new prisons.

A DCS spokesperson, Singabakho Nxumalo, said out that infections in prisons have been rising in line with national trends; that 1012 active cases existed for inmates and officials, with only 88 active cases out of a community 146 732 offenders countrywide.

Sources within the prisons, however, said over the past week alone, clinics, kitchens, security and records offices at Sun City – Johannesburg Correctional Centre – and at Kgosi Mampuru II in Pretoria, had to close down as numbers of Covid-19 infections increased inside the facilities.

An anoymous inmate told the Sunday Independent newspaper “there were delays in the preparation of food after some prisoners were quarantined because of the virus” at the hat a Kgosi Mampuru II prison in Pretoria (formerly Pretoria Central Prison).

An internal memo posted on the prison walls at the facility announced that it had 28 active cases and one death. But an official said the notice was two weeks out of date because more people had tested positive and a colleague was buried just last week.

“There are inmates who worked in the kitchen, who are currently under quarantine. These are inmates who prepared meals for us, so we’ve seen a delay in our meal preparations.

“This is supposed to be a rehabilitation centre, but there is no rehabilitation, whatsoever.

“We were told that 19000 low-risk inmates would be released to curb the spread of the virus, but not even 40 were released from this side, Kgosi Mampuru,” he said.

However, Nxumalo is adamant that there isn’t a crisis in correctional facilities saying: “Our officials do report for duty. Those who were in direct contact with positive cases have been placed in quarantine, so as isolating those who have tested positive.

“No sections in any of our facilities have been closed down due to Covid-19. We decontaminate sites where there are positive cases and open them for operations.

“This is going to be the norm moving forward across all institutions in the country”.

He said a picture is being painted of a chaotic environment with the hope that the public will be mobilised and pushed for the mass release of prisoners.

“Fortunately, numbers do tell the truth. Unfortunately, some individuals purporting to be representing the interest of offenders have engaged in an offensive campaign, misinforming the public.

“Only 195 inmates in the whole country have the virus in their system and thus require daily monitoring and treatment.

“It must be emphasised that such will never happen (the mass release). We live in a democratic state where the rule of law is supreme.”