600 prisoners on hunger strike

Sne Masuku

Sne Masuku

HIV-positive prison inmates have entered the fourth day of a hunger strike in protest about poor services, a lack of medical attention and their general treatment.

Prisoners at the Westville Prison in Durban claim that 36 inmates who had been receiving antiretroviral treatment have died since August last year.

Sowetan was inundated with phone calls yesterday from prisoners who vowed to continue the hunger strike until prison officials took them seriously.

Promise Makhanya, of the Treatment Action Campaign, in confirming the strike, criticised the prisoners for going embarking on it. She said there were other avenues they could pursue to resolve their problems and their action compromised their health.

"The more they go hungry, the more they compromise their health and cause their immune system to be even weaker," she said.

Makhanya said the inmates complained that the diet for HIV-positive prisoners had not changed and that their grievances were ignored.

Mduduzi Ngubane, of the HIV and Aids support group in Westville Prison, said about 600 inmates had been on a hunger strike since Friday.

Ngubane said because of poor diet, poor service delivery and a lack of medical attention, of the 46 HIV-positive inmates on the antiretroviral programme, 36 had died since August last year.

"We would rather die of hunger than be killed by taking antiretrovirals without a proper diet," he said.

Manelisi Wolela, a spokesman for the Department of Correctional Services, denied that there was a hunger strike at the prison. He dismissed the strike as a rumour.

"I can assure you there is no hunger strike at Westville Prison," Wolela said.