Mangaung prison firm fights to keep G4S contract operational

Urgent court application led to about-turn on end of July termination

Mangaung Correctional Centre on March 30, 2023 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Mangaung Correctional Centre on March 30, 2023 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Image: Mlungisi Louw

A company contracted to guard the Mangaung prison in partnership with department of correctional services, says it is not the worst-run correctional facility in the country despite the infamous escape by Thabo Bester.

The company says the escape of Facebook rapist Bester was an isolated incident.

Its application in court, in which it details its engagements with minister Ronald Lamola, is what led to the department of correctional services’ about turn on the cancellation of the contract.

The department confirmed last week that it had agreed to a mediation process which was made an order of the court.

Sowetan can reveal that in its affidavit, Bloemfontein Correctional Contracts (BCC) – a holding company in a public-private partnership with the department of correctional services to run the Mangaung prison – argued that the cancellation was procedurally flawed and invalid.

Minister of justice and correctional services, Ronald Lamola.
Minister of justice and correctional services, Ronald Lamola.
Image: Brenton Geach

Director John Mokoena accused minister Lamola of bowing down to public pressure when he decided to send them a notice of termination of the contract which has been running since 2000.

He cited the facility’s track record of four escapes from custody including Bester’s in its 23 years compared to 515 escapes from other prisons in the past 10 years. Bester escaped from the facility in May last year.

“The escape of Bester has a narrative that drew public and media attention and brought focus to bear on the security at the prison. The popular narrative didn’t have regard to the sophisticated measures in place to prevent prison escapes and the record of the applicant [through its sub-contractor G4S Correctional Services Bloemfontein] … – over more than two decades of preventing escapes from the prison,” he said.

“The implementation of the purported notice of termination will have far-reaching implications for [BCC], G4S and its subcontractors, and potentially on the prison population, the personnel employed at the prison and the public at large...”

Lamola made an about-turn on terminating the contract by the end of July after a challenge to his decision.

BCC challenged Lamola’s termination notice in the high court in Pretoria last week. This culminated in a court order directing the department and company which subcontracts G4S to run and manage the prison to seek mediation in their dispute.

On May 2, the same day that the department sent a 90-day notice of termination to BCC, Lamola said legal opinion had been obtained before the notice was served.

G4s Mangaung prison contract story published in the Sowetan on 3 May 2023.
G4s Mangaung prison contract story published in the Sowetan on 3 May 2023.
Image: Sowetan

Mokoena said representatives from [BCC] and [Lamola] met to discuss the Bester incident and the notice of termination on May 11 in Cape Town.

Mokoena said Lamola was amenable to considering options other than the termination of the contract and it was agreed that BCC would identify possible alternatives to ending the contract. 

On May 25, Mokoena said, BCC sent a letter to Lamola in which it expressed its commitment to continue to uphold its obligations under the concession agreement between the company and the department. He added that on June 13, BCC sent various proposals to Lamola for the continued operation of the agreement and disputed validity of the notice of termination on grounds that it was procedurally and substantively flawed.

“… [BCC] also also disputed the validity of the notice of termination and stated that [Lamola’s] conduct in issuing the notice of termination amounted to a repudiation of the concession contract.

“In this regard, [BBC] confirmed its election not to accept [Lamola’s] repudiation of the concession agreement and that it intended to hold the parties to their respective obligations in the … agreement.”

Mokoena said the company followed up with the minister on a number of occasions including June 22 to arrange a further meeting to explore proposals it had put forward but not received a response.

He said Lamola eventually responded to BCC’s letter on July 5, advising them he had not changed his mind on the notice of termination. Lamola also told BCC that the proposals they had put forward to continue running the prison were unacceptable.

But after an urgent application was filed with the high court challenging the termination, the department announced four days before the termination was to come into effect that it would embark on a mediation process. The mediation is expected to conclude on or before August 31 and Lamola has been ordered not to take steps to implement the termination pending the final determination.

In the event of failure by mediation to resolve the dispute, the parties agreed to set down urgent application in court on September 19 for urgent determination.

When asked what the G4S court challenge meant for the contract, correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said the department did not have a contract with G4S.

“BCC and DCS are to embark on a mediation process a court order affirmed this it specified the timelines so that the process is protected from undue delays,” he said. Nxumalo added that the department is ready to takeover the Mangaung prison and “plans are in place for smooth transition”.

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