Warders set dogs on us, claim inmates

Canaan Mdletshe

Canaan Mdletshe

Racial and religious tensions are brewing between Christian and Muslim inmates in Westville Prison in Durban.

This after prison officials allegedly set dogs on 50 black inmates who refused to vacate their cell for Muslim inmates.

The Muslims wanted the cell to use as a place of prayer during the month of Ramadaan.

Incensed prisoners phoned Sowetan yesterday complaining that prison officials chose one cell that accommodates about 50 inmates, and forced them to vacate it for Muslims.

One of the prisoners, Wellington Vela Ndwandwe, said the problem started last Thursday.

"Medium C head, only known to us as Bheka Nkomo came and told us that he would be placing us in other cells because he wanted to accommodate Muslims for the whole month and we refused," said Ndwandwe.

He said they refused because they felt that Muslim inmates were given preferential treatment and they believe that was unconstitutional as all prisoners should be treated equally.

"We asked him why he wanted us to leave our cell, why can't they find an alternative place to worship, but he just walked away," he said.

He said when Nkomo returned he set dogs on them. "The dogs made a meal out of us and I had to be taken to King Edward Hospital along with 17 other inmates," he said.

Another inmate, Russel Ngubo, said though they value other people's rights to practise their religion, they were opposed to the manner in which the matter was handled.

"No matter how wrong the prisoners were for refusing to vacate their cell, it was unnecessary for the authorities to set dogs on them.

"Many inmates are still injured after the incident," charged Ngubo.

Golden Miles Bhudu of the South African Prisoners' Organisation for Human Rights (Sapohr) said the action by the authorities was a clear abuse of power.

"Why do they want to cause this racial and religious friction among inmates?

"Why should there be assault if what they were doing was a good cause," said Bhudu.

Manelisi Wolela, spokesman for the Correctional Services department, could not be reached for comment yesterday as he did not answer his cellphone.