Prison abuse probe

Mhlaba Memela

Mhlaba Memela

The Correctional Services Department has instituted a probe into allegations that female officers assaulted male offenders while they were conducting a strip search at the Durban Westville prison.

Prisoners claim the female officers also forced them to strip during the random search.

Bheki Manzini, a spokesman for the department, said they took the allegations seriously.

He said: "The random search was part of the department's festive-season safety plan and the Operation Vala campaign that was launched by minister Ngconde Balfour in November."

Manzini said the search was conducted after management got a tip-off about a possible escape.

He denied that female officers had participated in the search.

"The strip-search was only conducted by male officers in the courtyard while all female officers remained in the offices," he said.

He said Operation Vala would continue until the end of the festive season.

Golden Miles Bhudu, president of the South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights (Sapohr), pictured left, dismissed the department's investigation as "a joke".

He said Sapohr would conduct its own investigation.

He said: "The department continues to investigate itself using the Independent Judicial Inspectorate, which is their ally. They sleep in one bed with this organisation."

He said Sapohr had also received information that inmates who had talked to the media were being victimised.

"These inmates have a few days left to finish their sentences but their release dates have been taken away as punishment for giving out information," Bhudu said.