Conflicting stories of inmate deaths

Simon Nare and Pumza Fihlani

Simon Nare and Pumza Fihlani

Prison overcrowding led to the weekend outbreak of violence at the Krugersdorp prison in which three inmates were killed, the South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights (Sapohr) said yesterday.

Six warders allegedly intervened in a gang conflict at the weekend and allegedly assaulted three offenders.

The three men died in hospital on Saturday evening and the warders were arrested.

The six warders appeared briefly in the Krugersdorp magistrates' court yesterday and were released on R1000 bail. They were suspended with pay and will make their next court appearance on June 1.

The inmates died at Leratong Hospital on Saturday night where they were taken after they were allegedly assaulted by the warders.

It has also emerged that one of the dead inmates was due to be released at the end of this month.

Correctional services confirmed that Patrick Nxumalo, who was serving two years for violating his parole conditions, was going to be a free man at the end of the month.

Sowetan has learnt that Simphiwe Tshabalala, 28, who was serving two years for assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, was to be released in October this year.

The third inmate, Dudu Maqhiwa, 35, who was serving one year for malicious damage to property and four years for theft, was to be released in November this year.

The department blamed the trio's death on a violent fight that broke out between rival gangs. It said prison warders had been forced to intervene.

But the South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights, the prisons watchdog body, said they have received a different story from the inmates themselves.

Sapohr president Golden Miles Bhudu said inmates from the prison had called the organisation yesterday morning with a different version.

"The department is saying the incident was gang-related and they had to intervene. But inmates are telling us it had nothing to do with gangsterism.

"They claim that the inmates were assaulted by prison warders after they handed a memorandum of grievances to the authorities," said Bhudu.

High on the list of grievances was overcrowding which resulted in inmates not getting their medication on time.

The overcrowding also resulted in some inmates not having access to skills development and education training programmes, he said.

"As an organisation we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place because we are denied access to get it [information] from the horse's mouth, so we have no choice but to believe our members," Bhudu said.

But department spokesman Manelisi Wolela dismissed the allegations, saying Bhudu was a publicity monger.

"This is merely one of Bhudu's wild allegations wanting to dishonour the department.

"He is just too creative and what he says should not be paid any attention," said Wolela.

Wolela denied all knowledge of the prisoner organisation being denied access to prisoners.