Inmates at the Grahamstown Correctional Centre say they will join a nationwide hunger strike to call attention to overcrowding and alleged poor hygiene in the facility. The Department of Correctional Services says overcrowding in South Africa’s prisons is a national problem, however, and it is doing its best to reduce this.
On 9 April this year the Waainek, Makhanda, facility was nearly two-thirds over its capacity, the Department has confirmed.
Inmates said they feared they were going to die there as the number of positive Covid-19 Coronavirus cases in Eastern Cape prisons continued to rise.
Inmates at the Waainek facility said at the start of the lockdown that there were up to 50 of them in a cell. People who had been arrested were being brought directly into already overcrowded cells, without first being tested for Covid-19, they said. Food was of poor quality and insufficient and the cells were dirty and smelled of urine. They were afraid that because they are not high-profile prisoners, they wouldn’t receive the same attention as inmates in facilities such as St Alban’s.
The Waainek inmates said they were afraid they were going to die there and warned that they would strike in protest if overcrowding and their concerns about conditions weren’t addressed. Their fears were sparked by the growing number of Covid-19 cases in correctional centres across the country.
All Covid-19 related media queries to government departments are now dealt with at national level, in terms of State of Disaster protocols, and so responses are unusually slow. Grocott’s Mail sent queries about Grahamstown Correctional Centre at the beginning of the month and received a response on 17 April. According to the response, some of the Waainek inmates’ concerns have since been addressed.
Twelve offenders have so far been released from during the lockdown period from Grahamstown Correctional Centre, according to national spokesperson Sengabakho Nxumalo. However, this is unrelated to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“No directives have been received for releases regarding Covid-19, Nxumalo told Grocott’s Mail in reply to our questions.
However, the special remission by the President on 16 December 2019 resulted in 65 unconditional releases from the Waainek facility. A further 37 were placed out of the centre from 24 December 2019 to 6 March 2020, in a conditional release programme.
Of the 12 released during the lockdown period, two were unconditional, five were conditional and for five awaiting trial prisoners (remand detainees), bail was paid.
Nxumalo confirmed that the inmates population at Grahamstown Correctional Centre on 9 April 2020 was 520, “Whereas, the total inmates holding capacity is equal to 309.”
Grocott’s Mail asked what measures had been put in place at the facility to protect staff and inmates from Covid-19. Nxumalo said the following had been carried out at Grahamstown Correctional Centre:
- Suspension of visits for the families of offenders;
- Limiting the number of people entering and leaving the facility e.g. spiritual workers;
- School and contact sport suspended;
- Only essential work teams are allowed to operate outside the centre;
- Sanitisation of all cells and vehicles used by offenders;
- Screening of all newly admitted offenders and also screening of officials;
- All officials and offenders are sanitised when entering and leaving the centre;
- Mass screening of inmates.
Grocott’s Mail asked whether warders had received personal protective equipment. Nxumalo said all officials had been issued with:
- Gowns (disposable)
With 520 inmates on 9 April 2020, Grahamstown Correctional Centre was at 168.28%, well over its total holding capacity of 520, Nxumalo confirmed. The total inmates holding capacity at the Waainek facility is 309.
“This is a national problem and the department is trying its best to reduce it by implementing an eight-pronged strategy,” Nxumalo said. Management meetings at the Waainek facility aimed to address this challenge.
Inmates at Waainek this week said their situation was unchanged, however, and that instead, more people had been brought into their section.
City Press reports that prisoners across the country have threatened to embark on a hunger strike as of Monday 20 April “in a bid for an early release from prison and also to try to avoid contacting the Covid-19 coronavirus in overcrowded jails”.
In a general media statement on 18 April, Correctional Services said two more officials at the East London Correctional Centre, where several cases have been reported during the past two weeks, had tested positive.
The Department confirmed that five more officials had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing to 99 the total number of cases in Correctional Services across the country.
The five new cases of officials were as follows: one at Limpopo Regional Office, two in East London and two in Worcester.
The total breakdown of confirmed cases at Correctional Services is as follows:
- Officials – 31
- Inmates – 56 (remains the same as previously reported)
- Officials – 9
- Inmates – 0
- Officials – 2
- Inmates – 0
- Officials – 1
“Screening of officials and those accessing Correctional Services premises remains in force to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in our centres across the country,” the Department said in the statement. “We will continue working towards the wellbeing of officials and inmates, as their health is our priority.”
As of Sunday 19 April, South Africa had confirmed a total of 3 158 COVID-19 cases, having conducted 114 711 tests to date.
Gauteng is still leading with 1 148 people testing positive for the virus, followed by the Western Cape at 868 cases.
KwaZulu-Natal has 617 cases of COVID-19, the Eastern Cape province has 293 cases, Free State has 100 cases, Limpopo has 27 cases, the North West has 24 cases, Mpumalanga has 23 cases and the Northern Cape has 16 cases. There are 42 unallocated cases.
“Today we regrettably report two new COVID-19 related deaths. Similar to yesterday [Saturday], these are from KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape. This bring the total death toll to 54 today,” Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, said. “We convey our condolences to the families and also appreciate the committed health workers who were treating the deceased patients,” . – Additional reporting from SAnews.gov.za
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