19 May 2023
Gladys Molemohi’s son Teboho died in Mangaung Correctional Centre, a maximum security prison in Bloemfontein, in January 2021. A year and a half later, she says she has not received answers from the police on how Teboho died.
The Mangaung Correctional Centre (MCC) is the prison from which Thabo Bester escaped in May 2022. It is a private prison partly owned and operated by multinational security company G4S. Since the Bester escape, the South African government has issued a notice to terminate the contract with the consortium that owns the prison.
Speaking to GroundUp at her home in Batho, in Bloemfontein, Molemohi choked up as she spoke of seeing Tebogo’s body in the morgue. “He had scars on his face and I could see he had been beaten.”
The family buried Teboho, and Molemohi says she has not heard from the police since. She said when she enquired about what had happened, she was told by a police officer that she wasn’t strong enough to handle the truth.
“My only son,” Molemohi says, taking down the framed picture of Teboho that hangs above her bed. Teboho’s father died in 2014.
Teboho was serving a 15-year sentence, five years of which were suspended, for murder. Molemohi says that Teboho stabbed someone outside a post office during a disagreement.
Spokesperson for the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS), Emerantia Cupido, said the JICS’s investigation into Teboho’s death is not complete because the inspectorate is awaiting the outcome of the police’s investigation. Cupido said they recently followed up with the police for an update.
But the South African Police Service (SAPS) told GroundUp that six inmates at the prison had been found guilty of murdering Teboho and each had been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment on top of their existing sentences.
Department of Correctional Services (DCS) spokesperson Singubakho Nxumalo also told GroundUp that six people had been convicted, but said four of them had received 15-year sentences — running concurrently with their existing sentences — and the other two had received ten-year sentences.
We asked Molemohi if she knew about the murder convictions. She said she did not. She said she still wants to know exactly why and how Teboho died.
No one appears to be willing to take responsibility for not telling Teboho’s mother about the murder convictions or the outcome of the investigations.
The SAPS told GroundUp it was DCS’ responsibility to update the family because prisoners serve their sentences under DCS. But Nxumalo, the DCS spokesperson, said that the family was informed of Teboho’s death and linked with the relevant police station. He told GroundUp he has never heard of a case where the DCS was required to do more than that.
Meanwhile, the Inspecting Judge for Correctional Services, Edwin Cameron, says the moral obligation falls on G4S.
“G4S ran the prison where the inmate was murdered. It bore the burden of the pastoral and statutory care of the murdered man. It follows that G4S had the primary moral duty to inform the family of his death, the outcomes of subsequent investigations and the sentences imposed on the perpetrators found guilty,” Cameron told GroundUp.
“Their omission to do this seems to be a sign of the increasing dysfunction that beset Mangaung prison under G4S.”
G4S did not respond to GroundUp’s questions or to Cameron’s statement. “Unfortunately G4S cannot provide media with comment on a prison-related matter due to the provisions of the Correctional Services Act as well as the contract with DCS,” a G4S spokesperson told GroundUp.
Instead the spokesperson referred us to Bloemfontein Correctional Contracts (BCC). G4S owns 20% of BCC and manages the prison as part of a contract with BCC. The prison is branded with the G4S logo.
BCC did not directly respond to Cameron’s statement but said the prison’s policy “is to manage any death with compassion”, and confirmed that six inmates were found guilty of Teboho’s murder. BCC said that it informed Molemohi of her son’s death and supported the police investigation.
GroundUp reported in January that 19 inmates died at Mangaung Correctional Centre between January 2021 and October 2022, five of whom suffered unnatural deaths. Unnatural deaths include murders and suicides and are reported to JICS.
JICS received 102 reports of unnatural deaths in 2021, Cupido told GroundUp. Altogether, investigations into 435 unnatural death cases, from as far back as 2009, are incomplete. These investigations cannot be completed without cooperation from other role players, says Cupido.
“In some cases, JICS can complete a preliminary report within 90 days,” Cupido says. But in Gauteng, a toxicology report usually takes more than 10 years to complete. In one case a post-mortem report requested in 2016 was delivered in 2023.
“JICS does not have a specialised investigations unit within its approved establishment structure,” says Cupido. JICS relies on ad hoc inspectors and its own management to conduct investigations.
Asked whether Teboho’s case indicates that communication between JICS and SAPS is a challenge, Cupido said: “JICS has been addressing this challenge for several years.”
Nxumalo, DCS’s spokesperson, told GroundUp: “JICS was informed when the incident happened. They can always contact the department should there be information or details constraining their own investigation. They have full access to correctional centres.”