Hungry HIV+ inmates go on hunger strike

PRISONERS at the privately-run Mangaung Correctional Centre outside Bloemfontein say they resorted to a hunger strike in a last-ditch effort to get antiretroviral medicine and proper nutrition.

PRISONERS at the privately-run Mangaung Correctional Centre outside Bloemfontein say they resorted to a hunger strike in a last-ditch effort to get antiretroviral medicine and proper nutrition.

Since Monday, 39 of the 2928 inmates have been refusing to eat. They claim they are not adequately fed and that HIV-positive prisoners are denied ARV treatment. Many of the striking prisoners have HIV and are putting their health at risk by refusing to eat.

In a cellphone recording made in prison, inmates are heard complaining about a range of issues.

"We eat cabbage every day and are excluded from rehabilitation programmes or even contact with social workers. We have requested transfers but our applications were denied," said inmate Isaac Maleho Rapulani on the tape.

He claimed prison officials pocketed money budgeted for their food and medicine.

In an interview with Sowetan, Xolani Mahambela, who spent six months at the prison, said he had been fed nothing but porridge for breakfast, bread and a drink for lunch and cabbage and pap for supper.

Leana Goosen, head of operations and solutions for G4S Care and Justice Services, the private company that runs the prison for profit, denied the allegations.

"Individual inmates refused to take their morning and afternoon meals yesterday. Though an investigation into the reasons for this behaviour has been started, initial indications are that they want to be transferred to another correctional centre."

Goosen said some inmates had been refused transfers and other applications were still being considered by the department of Correctional Services. She said the families of most inmates who wanted to be transferred lived far from the prison.

"Prisoners spend about nine hours every day doing rehabilitation programmes. We have a school with a pass rate of 90percent and we have 10 social workers on the premises," she said.

Goosen said government officials monitored the prison daily.

"Our kitchen is inspected and we offer different menus for winter and summer, as well as for religious and medical requirements," she said.

No doctors at the prison were allowed to comment.

Benzi Soko of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union said: "The Department of Correctional Services should not hide behind procedures; state institutions should be transparent to the public."

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