How I was raped in prison

South African prison cell. Photo courtesy of Robin Wood.

Pharie Sefali

9 May 2014

Denial and a homophobic culture means rape of male prisoners by other men remains prison’s dirty secret. Pharie Sefali interviewed a young man who was raped in prison.

Nkosi (name changed) is 20 years old. He is currently in Grade 12. He used to belong to a gang called the Vato. He is accused of murdering a gang member from the Vura gang in Crossroads, Nyanga.

The Vura and the Vato are rival gangs in the township. Their members are aged between 12 and 25.

In January, Nkosi and his friends were accused of beating a member of a rival gang to death. He claims he was not involved in the incident.

“I admitted to the crime because I was beaten by the police prosecutor at the police station,” said Nkosi. “He told me that I did it even though I told him I did not … I was sent to Pollsmoor Prison for a few months before I was given bail.”

Nkosi said that he had heard many stories about how old people treat young people in prison, but he never believed he would one day experience it.

“When I entered the prison, I got searched and the prison wardens took all my belongings and they gave me new clothes. There were more than ten of us.”

“When we got inside the prison, we were separated and were put in different prison cells. The cell that was allocated to me had a flat sponge for a mattress, a basin and a small toilet. I did not get any blankets nor toiletries, and there were three other guys in there with me.”

“I met a few guys that I know from my township and they gave me blankets and soap. I had those for a few days before they got stolen.”

Nkosi said that he was beaten daily, because he didn’t know the prison language and was given hard tasks to perform. He explains that some of the tasks included massaging some of the older prisoners and washing their feet.

“One day my blankets and my other belongings got stolen and I had to sleep on the sponge with no blanket, and the cell I was in had a broken window”.

Nkosi said during his first week in prison some of the older prisoners treated him well at times. He only received a few beatings because he was protected by people who were powerful in the prison.

“Things changed when one of the people who stood up for me said that it was time that I pay him back for his protection. I told him that I had no money; I did not have anything. He said to me that he did not need my money, he needed me.”

“At the time, I refused, because I knew what he wanted from me, so he said to me that he can’t help me anymore; I am on my own because I think I am a big man”.

After that Nkosi said that he got new people to hang out with and they were the same age as him. One of his fellow inmates told him that if he did not follow the rules given by the elders then he wouldn’t survive.

Nkosi says he was randomly beaten, mocked and he claims that he was also stabbed with a spoon during a fight.

“When you are sleeping in prison you shouldn’t doze off because anything could happen to you. You could get beaten, gang raped or get robbed.”

“One day when I was asleep, two guys held me tight and one guy raped me and I couldn’t move or do anything. I cannot recall for how long it happened but afterwards they just left me there and said nothing. Those were the people I shared my cell with.”

“I was bleeding and I had to clean myself with a dirty cloth that the inmates used to wipe the floor. For a few days I couldn’t go to the toilet. When I reported the matter, one of the wardens said that this is prison not home.”

After the incident, he realised that the best thing to do for his survival was to sleep with whomever.

“A month later, I felt like a sex worker because the elders came to me for sex and sometimes I refused depending on the person’s hygiene. I did not get any beatings because I was protected. I slept with men privately. My friends in prison did not know. They later respected me because of the people I knew.”

He said his experiences are not known outside the prison walls and he doesn’t like to talk about it because people will think that he is gay.

“It’s been a month now since I got bail and I swear I will never get arrested again”.

Nkosi is currently awaiting trial and hopes that he will not be charged for murder.