Minister liable for attack by escapee

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With three women warders to 31 inmates, escaping from St Albans Prison was a walk in the park for a convicted rapist, who revealed how he had strolled past three prison officials sitting in an office, all too fixated on their cellphones to notice him.He proceeded to kidnap, rape and brutally attack an off-duty prison warder, before forcing her to help further his escape plan.Lawyers for justice and correctional services minister Michael Masutha finally accepted liability on Tuesday for the March 2016 attack.For Thembeka Mayoba, however, the scars on her face are an ugly reminder of the vicious assault that lasted more than seven hours.She still battles to tell her story without crying.While the issue of quantum must still be decided, Mayoba, 55, who gave The Herald permission to use her name, is claiming R2m in respect of damages, past and future medical expenses and future loss of earnings.She said she continued to experience panic attacks and spent time in and out of Hunterscraig Private Hospital.In an interview at a coffee shop opposite the Port Elizabeth High Court on Tuesday, Mayoba recalled how she had prayed to God to save her as Sicelo “China” Tshamlambo, 36, dragged her from one bush to another, beat her with a brick and smashed a bottle over her head before stabbing her with the shards of glass.“I know what it’s like to be at the mercy of a devil’s hands. But through the grace of God, I am alive today,” she said.Mayoba had been off-duty and on her way to a friend, also living on the premises of the correctional centre, when she bumped into her attacker.
Tshamlambo, who was serving a life sentence for the rape of a 13-year-old girl in East London in 2008, was rearrested later that night and has since pleaded guilty to the attack on Mayoba.At the time of the 2008 conviction, a judge described the rape of the young girl as the worst case he had seen in 18 years.In a statement to police, Tshamlambo set out just how easy it had been for him to escape from the prison.His allegations of poor security measures were backed up by the findings of an internal probe, which form part of the court documents.The department concluded that the guidelines in terms of minimum security standards were not followed and the centre’s own orders in terms of the movement of prisoners were not adhered to.Mayoba, who has since transferred to the Graaff-Reinet correctional centre, had been working at St Albans for seven years before the attack.She is also a qualified teacher and presented restorative justice workshops to prisoners.On the morning of March 7, 2016, warder Thobekile Hendricks had escorted 31 prisoners, including Tshamlambo, to the textile factory workshop.Three women officials were in charge of training these offenders and were left alone with them at times.According to the report, offenders were allowed to wear white T-shirts under their orange uniforms, as well as private shoes when in training.At noon, they moved into the courtyard for lunch.“The entrance of the production workshop is not guarded and not locked at all,” the internal report states.Hendricks told an investigator he had seen Tshamlambo moving in the direction of the toilet, wearing only his white T-shirt and orange pants.Hendricks left to fetch his lunchbox and admitted he had failed to check if Tshamlambo had returned from the toilet.At some stage, he left again to escort another offender back to the cells after he fell ill.But at 12.45pm, when Hendricks did a head count of the prisoners, there were only 29.He searched the workshop building for Tshamlambo and then reported him missing to his manager.Tshamlambo claimed in his statement that inmates were never searched before being escorted to the textile factory.He said he stood up at about 10.30am and walked out of the workshop building, past three women officials sitting around a table and focused on their phones.“I then walked through the main gate without anyone asking me where I was going.”Tshamlambo said he knew the gate would not be locked as it was usually left ajar without anyone on guard.He walked towards the perimeter fence, where he found a hole and climbed through. He then removed his orange pants as he had been wearing a pair of grey trousers underneath.While walking through the bushes in the direction of Humansdorp, he came across Mayoba.“I demanded her phone and money but she resisted, so I assaulted her.”Mayoba handed over her Nokia cellphone and R80.He then raped her and put on her tracksuit top.“Afterwards, I apologised for my actions,” Tshamlambo said.“I pleaded with her not to lay any criminal charges against me as I was already serving a life sentence.”A half-naked and bleeding Mayoba was forced to walk with her assailant until they reached a tarred road.At 7 pm, she talked him into letting her go.He was rearrested in Rocklands later that night.Mayoba, represented by attorney Kailash Karsan, said St Albans had failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent a dangerous convict from escaping.It had failed further to quickly raise an alarm to alert everyone of an escape, and had failed to dispatch a search party within a reasonable time.Mayoba said she had recurring nightmares that Tshamlambo was chasing her and would wake up in a cold sweat.“I began drinking heavily and abused painkillers,” she said.Mayoba said each time she read about an attack on prison authorities the trauma of her ordeal came flooding back.“It was never my career of choice but it was a career available to black people at the time,” she said.“I now want to form a support group for abuse survivors.”The department did not defend the matter on Tuesday and after an out-of-court agreement between counsel, judge Murray Lowe declared the minister liable for the damages suffered by Mayoba.

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