22 June 2017
Hundreds of complaints have been made accusing prison officials of assaulting inmates, but the prisons inspectorate is only able to conduct a handful of full-blown investigations every year.
The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services’ (JICS) 2015/2016 annual report, says that due to severe staffing constraints, it only managed to conduct 13 investigations. These investigations involve visits to the prison and reports that are forwarded to the Department of Correctional Services. Almost all these investigations focussed on allegations of assault on inmates by officials.
The report also showed that there were 811 complaints received of alleged assault by officials on inmates with 218 needing to be investigated as they weren’t resolved. JICS was only able to make recommendations for 31 of these complaints. The investigation reports for the majority of complaints were still outstanding from the Department.
Sonke Gender Justice has also taken the matter of JICS to court, calling for a more independent oversight of prisons to be implemented.
The latest report also shows that there were 619 incidents of reported use of force by officials on inmates in the 2015/2016 year. This is a large increase from the 416 incidents reported in 2014/2015, particularly since the final quarter’s figures for 2015/2016 were not able to be included due to “system failure”. In these incidents, “non-lethal incapacitating devices” and “electronically activated weapons” were sometimes used.
The new inspecting judge of the JICS, Johann van der Westhuizen, has written that when he assumed office in April 2016 the organisation “had been sitting for far too long with draft reports and unanswered queries on series incidents of apparent violence, torture and even murder”.
Emergency support teams (EST) have in particular been accused of using excessive force and torturing inmates. The EST are called in for special operations and when warders cannot deal with a situation.
The story of an inmate at Losperfontein prison in Brits in the North West Province exemplifies the problem of lack of investigation. Abram Tumisang Mokale has made allegations of assault against members of the EST and has reported the matter to the police. He claims that the alleged assault occurred in March 2016 when the officials were looking for a cellphone.
He also claims that belongings authorised for use in his cell were stolen by officials in a separate incident in December 2016. He says his complaints to both police and officials at the prison have been ignored.
Correctional Services say a cellphone was confiscated and that Mokale’s allegations of assault cannot be substantiated.
GroundUp has not spoken directly to Mokale, but we have communicated with his father and have seen a number of documents pertaining to the alleged assault and theft, including a letter written by Mokale.
“That is not how you treat a human being,” Pabala Mokale, Abram’s father, told GroundUp when describing his son’s treatment at the prison. Mokale’s father says even his son’s toiletries were taken. “They left him with nothing,” he said.
In a letter Mokale described his assault. “On 9 March 2016 around 7:05am in the morning I was accused of having [a] cellphone in my possession and as a result was assaulted, choked (electrocuting device) and humiliated,” wrote Mokale. “No unauthorised items were found inside my cell.”
In May 2016, he opened a case with SAPS. “Since I opened the case, nothing [has] happened and I am always sent from pillar to post each time when I ask about my day in court. It is almost a year since the assault and having opened the case when the actual perpetrators are full time working here,” wrote Mokale.
“I am struggling to get my stuff back and every time when I demand that I be given them back, I [am] always threatened with transfer,” he wrote.
Correctional Services denies any wrongdoing. “A female official stationed at Losperfontein correctional centre received a WhatsApp message saying ‘I love you and you are so beautiful’ from a cellphone which has a profile picture of offender Mokale,” said Correctional Services’ spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo.
“Our EST was instructed to conduct a search. A cellphone with the offender’s WhatsApp profile picture sent to the official was found in his possession and confiscated. A disciplinary process was then instituted,” said Nxumalo.
Mokale alleges that another inmate used his picture.
“The offender complained about the assault — allegedly being slapped by an official. He was taken to the hospital section where a nurse examined the offender and no visible injuries were observed,” said Nxumalo. “However, an investigation was conducted and allegations of assault could not be substantiated. Be that as it may, the South African Police Service (SAPS) was called to open a case upon his request.”
GroundUp has seen a list of all the items that Mokale was authorised to have in his cell and the items he says were confiscated are on the list of authorised items.
In a letter written in January this year to the Employees Relations and Discipline Department, Mokale said that the officials who took his items are “always victimising and humiliating” him.
In a response to the letter, someone wrote on it that they had been told that the confiscated items have been destroyed.
Mokale’s father said that when he complained he was told that Abram must “accept that this is jail and not a hotel”.
SAPS in the North West has not yet responded to a request for comment.