Cops apologise to starving prisoners

Riot Hlatshwayo

The Mpumalanga police have apologised for failing to supply food to prisoners awaiting trial at the Nelspruit magistrate's court.

Prisoners who are brought to court from various prisons and police stations spend the entire day in holding cells at the Nelspruit police station without receiving food.

The police admit that this has gone on for months. Now officials have apologised.

Friday's Sowetan ran a report on the prisoners' plight.

Mpumalanga police spokesman Superintendent Abie Khoabane told Sowetan that a hastily arranged meeting took place at the Nelspruit police station on Friday.

He said an internal investigation revealed that the prisoners had been starved for months owing to what he termed "logistical problems". He apologised on behalf of the provincial police.

Khoabane initially said the prisoners were not given food because the police did not want to disturb court proceedings by walking through the court with food to the underground holding cells.

Sowetan checked and discovered that court proceedings would not be disturbed because there is a tunnel linking the police and the holding cells at the court.

Khoabane said he was not aware of the tunnel. He acknowledged that any prisoner brought to the holding cells, either from other police stations or prisons, automatically became the responsibility of the Nelspruit police station.

"I was not aware of the tunnel but it means this can be used to take food from the police station to the holding cells," Khoabane said yesterday.

"We are very sorry and thank you for making us aware of the situation. From Monday [today] prisoners will be given three meals a day."

Meanwhile, the office of provincial Police Commissioner Afrika Khumalo has also confirmed that it was not aware of the situation.

"The commissioner is on leave," Khumalo's spokesman, Superintendent Sibongile Nkosi, said yesterday.

"Acting Police Commissioner Pumza MakhanyaOjowuro was not aware of the situation but has now visited the police station with a view to taking urgent action."

Internal sources claim the leadership of Nelspruit's station commissioner, Vusi Mdakane, was questionable.

"He is very comfortable with the situation because a white woman makes tea for him while he sits in an air-conditioned office," a source said.

"His leadership is full of ignorance [sic]," the informant said.

Mdakane said he was a good leader and had made officers sign an agreement they would feed the prisoners.

"Your story was an eye- opener," Mdakane said yesterday. "I was under the impression my officers were doing their job. I will see to it that we remedy the situation."