“I’m innocent” is a refrain prison warders hear with such monotonous regularity, they mostly don’t listen. Zonderwater warder Levi Maphakane proved the exception to the rule. He not only listened to repeated protestations of innocence by inmate Thembekile Molaudzi – sentenced to life imprisonment on four counts including murder and robbery more than a decade ago – he contacted the Wits Justice Project (WJP) for help. Last week, the Constitutional Court reversed its own ruling regarding Molaudzi and ordered his immediate release. CAROLYN RAPHAELY reports.
Were it not for a prison warder, Thembekile Molaudzi would still be behind bars, writes Carolyn Raphaely.
Senior Journalist, Carolyn Raphaely, details the story of Thembekile Molaudzi, who spent 11 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Between shoddy investigations, missing court transcripts and unsuccessful appeals Molaudzi was caught in a system that has been criticized for being punitive to the poor. The Wits Justice Project pursued Thembekile’s case for 3 years, helping him to find his transcripts and facilitating legal assistance, for a man Carolyn Raphaely was convinced was innocent.
Justice Edwin Cameron has recently published a report on his visit to Pollsmoor Prison in April. He said he was “deeply shocked” by the “extent of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, sickness, emaciated physical appearance of detainees”, and that the “overall deplorable living conditions were profoundly disturbing”.
The DCS took over Mangaung prison in October 2013, when security behemoth G4S lost control of the prison, amid a spate of stabbings and a hostage taking, which followed a protracted strike and dismissal of about two-thirds of the staff. In August last year DCS handed back the prison to G4S. The Minister of Justice, Michael Masutha, visited the jail shortly after the handover and stated that he was “very impressed with the state-of-the-art facility”. But Masutha made no mention of the DCS investigation which his predecessor, Minister Sbu Ndebele, announced when the news of gross human rights violations – including routine assaults, electroshocking, forced injections with anti-psychotic drugs and lengthy isolation of inmates – broke.
On 17 December 2013, former inmate Tebogo Meje was called to the office of the unit manager in Mangaung prison, a South African jail run by British security behemoth G4S. There, members of the Emergency Security Team (EST)–a team of warders also known as the ‘ninjas’, armed with electrically charged shields and other non-lethal weapons–interrogated Meje.
Sentenced inmates at Johannesburg Correctional Centre (Sun City) Medium B embarked on a hunger strike last Wednesday demanding that the head of the prison Samuel Mahlanga resign, the Wits Justice Project (WJP) reported in The Saturday Star. Inmates said they were protesting Mahlanga’s denial of their privileges, as well as their conditions of confinement. They said that the hunger strike ended late Thursday afternoon when some inmates were intimidated by the Emergency Security Team and transferred to other prisons.
“One thing is clear: the use of force behind bars is a highly contentious issue. In terms of the law, the only permissible force is minimum or necessary force used to stop, or prevent a dangerous situation. Any other force is regarded as gratuitous, excessive and unlawful. Yet prison officials operating in the context of the prevailing culture of violence appear to routinely exceed accepted boundaries resorting to violence as a default position.
The outcome of an investigation into mass-beatings, brutal assaults, rapes and torture at St Albans prison is yet to come, as testimonies in court continue to bring serious human rights abuses to light. The ongoing, undisciplined conduct of St Albans officials is one reason the St Albans matter has dragged on for so long. In the meantime, though, it highlights the urgent need for ethical leadership in correctional services. By CAROLYN RAPHAELY.
Forty-three inmates who allege they were tortured by warders in a Bloemfontein prison are preparing to bring their claim before the British High Court.