Student protest damage blamed for prison break

Inadequate infrastructure and staff shortages which resulted in the escape of four dangerous criminals from the Mdantsane Prison are unlikely to be remedied soon, according to Correctional Services and Justice Minister Michael Masutha.

He said this was because a “significant amount” of his department’s budget had gone towards fixing the damages caused by students during the #FeesMustFall campaign.

Masutha was addressing the media after inspecting the facility in NU12.

“In reality, we won’t be able to fix the challenges in all the prisons due to the budget cuts. All the government departments sacrificed huge portions of their budgets towards the #FeesMustFall.

“In my department, I was forced to cut internship programmes by half,” he said.

Masutha said with its current budget, the department could only replace locks at the Mdantsane prison by next week.

“That we can do, but in terms of the big infrastructure, like the prison fence and the dysfunctional alarm system, that would take some time unfortunately.”

Masutha said a lot of work and expenses would be involved, including advertising tenders.

He said during the inspections and evaluation, he had identified prison guards who needed re-training and also the need to hire more guards.

“That requires a big budget.”

Meanwhile, police union Popcru has launched a scathing attack on provincial Correctional Services commissioner Nkosinathi Breakfast, accusing him of “peddling lies” after he blamed prison guards for Wednesday’s escape.

The Police Prison and Civil Rights Union said the escape had happened as a result of Breakfast’s “incompetence” after he failed to act on the union’s grievances about dysfunctional security systems, overcrowded cells, few prison guards, lack of a dining area and broken doors.

On Wednesday night, following the daring escape, Breakfast said prison guards had broken rules by feeding dangerous prisoners in the passage instead of in their locked cells, allowing them to eat alone, unsupervised in the passage, and failing to check all the doors and give a structural integrity report.

Popcru provincial secretary Zamikhaya Skade in turn blamed prison management.

“Firstly, the prisoners who escaped are classified as maximum prisoners, yet management placed them at Mdantsane prison, which is classified as a medium facility,” he said.

“Secondly, Breakfast accuses guards of feeding prisoners in the passage, yet he does not tell the public that section has no dining hall.

“Thirdly, Breakfast says there are 27 prisoners in that unit. That is what the unit is designed for, but in reality it houses more than 150 prisoners.

“The 150 prisoners are guarded by five wardens at a given shift and when prisoners have to be escorted to court only two members remain behind,” he said.

Breakfast has denied Popcru’s allegations, saying while there was a shortage of staff, had the wardens kept the offenders in their cells, Lihle Zikholisile, 19, of Mthatha, Norman Mukunuwendo, 22, of Zimbabwe, Phikolomzi Sonakele, 23, of Mqanduli, and Sandile Vena, 22, of King William’s Town, would not have escaped.

They are still on the run.

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