Pumza Fihlani, Vusi Melani and Sapa
Prison gang violence and alleged assault by prison officials has resulted in the death of three inmates at Krugersdorp Prison at the weekend.
The Correctional Services Department and the police have launched a "high level" investigation into the killings which happened after a fight between gangs broke out on Saturday night.
It is alleged a prisoner was stabbed several times during the day by a member of a rival gang. A fight broke out later that night.
Unconfirmed reports said warders intervened in the fight and assaulted the prisoners involved.
Three inmates were later taken to Leratong Hospital in Kagiso where they died the same evening.
The hospital confirmed their admission but declined to give further details.
Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour said in a statement yesterday that the alleged assault would be investigated and that disciplinary action would be taken against the warders if they are found guilty.
Department spokesman Manelisi Wolela told Sowetan yesterday that police were investigating a murder charge.
Wolela would not reveal what instrument was used in the attacks and said only: "All we can say at this stage is that it was a sharp object. Our investigations will reveal the rest."
In the statement Balfour expressed shock at the deaths of the inmates and said: "Incidents of this nature cannot be tolerated whether perpetrated by officials or offenders."
Wolela said this was the first act of violence at the prison. He said that before yesterday's incident the prison had been classified as one of the safest in the country.
Balfour also expressed his condolences to the murdered inmates' families.
The names of the prisoners were not available at the time of going to press as the next of kin had not been notified.
The department said they were "working around the clock to the track the families of the dead prisoners".
Police yesterday declined to comment.