Prisoners go on hunger strike over parole dispute

“We trust that you will realise the implications that might be triggered by your ignorance of this memorandum”

Photo of unattended meals at a prison

Prisoners left their meals unattended at Barberton Prison in Mpumalanga. Photo supplied by a prisoner

By Ashleigh Furlong

5 May 2017

A hunger strike began on Thursday at Barberton Prison in Mpumalanga over parole delays. This is according to an inmate at the prison. And an inmate at another prison, Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre in Pretoria, said that inmates held a sit-in there last week. GroundUp has video footage and images from both prisons showing the respective hunger strike and sit-in.

The inmate at Kgosi Mampuru II told GroundUp that the protesting inmates at both prisons were all “lifers” who are angry at the extended delays in being considered for parole. He said that the minimum sentence for lifers sentenced before 1 October 2004 is 12 years and four months but that some had been in prison for 18 or more years without being considered for parole.

However, spokesperson for Correctional Services, Singabakho Nxumalo, told GroundUp that there was no hunger strike at Barberton as the inmates only refused their morning meal and demanded to speak to the area commissioner to discuss the issue of parole for lifers. After the meeting with the commissioner, the inmates accepted food.

Nxumalo said that the refusal of their food came after a request for more information was made before a decision could be taken about five lifers at the prison who were being considered for parole. He said that the parole system is currently being reviewed and that this was also a reason for the concern amongst inmates.

The law governing who may be considered for parole is complicated. In a nutshell, prisoners sentenced to life after 1 October 2004 can only be considered for parole after 25 years. Prisoners sentenced before then can be considered for parole after serving about half this time.

An inmate at Barberton said that the hunger strike ended at 2pm. He said that it takes a long time for Correctional Services to process parole applications. The documentation is often incomplete, he claimed, and this is the fault of Correctional Services, not the prisoners. The prisoner said that he had been sentenced in January 2004, more than 13 years ago, and had never been considered for parole.

On 10 April, the lifers at Kgosi Mampuru II sent a detailed memorandum to numerous officials including the minister and the national commissioner. It states that their protest is against the “cruel and undue punishment” of preventing them from being considered for parole when they are legally due to be considered. “It tortures us psychologically and undermines our right to dignity, equality before the law and administrative action that is lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair,” they say. “As lifers we are being deliberately ignored.”

The memo warns: “We trust that you will realise the implications that might be triggered by your ignorance of this memorandum.”

Two weeks after the memo was submitted, the inmates staged their sit-in.

In a video taken last week by the inmate at Kgosi Mampuru II, a large group of inmates can be seen in the courtyard of the prison. According to the inmate, the prisoners staged the sit-in for nearly 12 hours – from 7am to after 6pm.

He said that the inmates agreed to stop the sit-in after the area commissioner promised to address their concerns. In a meeting today he said that the inmates have given officials more time to resolve the issue.