Minister gets tough on negligence

Mhlaba Memela

Mhlaba Memela

The rearrested prisoners from a tight security prison in northern KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday will be kept in chains for 24 hours.

Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour gave the order after a combined police task force managed to rearrest five out of the 10 dangerous prisoners who had escaped from Qalakabusha Prison.

The prisoners escaped in what turned out to be a plan that hinged on connivance with prison warders.

Balfour also ordered that the 11 suspended warders on duty that day be charged with a criminal offence.

"It was total negligence and incompetence by the officials on duty. I want them charged and if they stay on our premises they should be removed immediately," he said.

This after closed circuit television footage showed the escapees freely walking through six electronic gates in broad daylight.

The footage apparently shows the prisoners laughing and waving goodbye.

Three of the escapees were arrested on Monday in Mtubatuba while the other two were caught on Wednesday night at a filling station in Hluhluwe.

Most of the 10 escapees were serving life sentences for murder and armed robbery.

Police Director Phindile Hadebe said police received information that the two escapees arrested at the filling station were preparing to cross the Swaziland border.

"There was an exchange of gunfire between police and escapees," she said.

"One prisoner pulled out a gun and fired shots at the police who returned fire killing him instantly."

Hadebe said police were working around the clock to apprehend the remaining five escapees.

The department said only 93 inmates escaped in the country's prisons in the year between April last year and this year.

Benzi Soko, spokesman for Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union, said the suspension of the warders was not appropriate.

"Suspending members without identifying the problem is not a solution. In many prisons, the security system is not good.

"The heads of prisons should be suspended too," he said.