Detainee tells of shocking conditions for awaiting trial prisoners

Pollsmoor prison cell. Photo from a presentation on tuberculosis in prison by Professor Robin Wood of the University of Cape Town.

Mary-Anne Gontsana

7 May 2015

After numerous organisations wrote to the Department of Correctional Services, raising their concerns about the bad conditions in the awaiting trial section of Pollsmoor prison, GroundUp exclusively spoke to a detainee in that section, who says nothing has changed.

Last year, the Visitors Committee for Pollsmoor, the Treatment Action Campaign, Sonke Gender Justice, Lawyers for Human Rights and the Bonteheuwel Support Group for ex-offenders stated in their letter that 200 detainees in units E2 and B3 had a lack of mattresses, a leaking roof, lack of hot water and insufficient access to medical treatment.

A detainee who has been awaiting trial for a number of years, spoke to GroundUp on condition of anonymity. The photographs he sent to GroundUp are grainy but they nevertheless show a grim situation inside the cells.

Detainees at the Pollsmoor Remand Detention Facility (awaiting trial section of the prison) have to share single beds because it is overcrowded and there are not enough beds. Some detainees sleep on the floor.

“It is filthy inside here. There is only one toilet for 40 of us so some end up urinating in the shower. This causes a bad smell because we don’t get any cleaning detergents here to clean the shower or the toilet,” he said.

As he gives a little laugh, the detainee tells this reporter that she wouldn’t last a minute in the cells because of the unbearable smell.

Shower, toilet and sink inside one of the cells.

“The situation is bad here inside. We share single beds and some of us sleep on the floor, there is no area for non smokers. It is crowded. There are lice and some of the people around us are sick. In terms of food, today we ate ‘milisi’ and bread, I don’t eat it because this food is right for pigs not human beings, I just eat the bread that is provided,” he said.

Asked to explain what exactly milisi is, he said it was something that looked like samp or the mealie rice that is usually fed to pigeons. They are given food two times a day and the last meal that they ate on Wednesday, was given to them just a few minutes before 1pm. “I keep some of my bread for later so at least I don’t sleep with an empty stomach,” said the detainee.

Detainees complain that the food they get is too little and not so good.

The detainee says he was told that life in the Pollsmoor awaiting trial section is much worse than inside the prison. “I don’t know how but all I know is that we are living like animals in here and there is nothing that we can do about it”.