The president of the Police, Prisons and Civil Rights Union (POPCRU), Zizamele Cebekhulu Makhaza, says the government should take back the running of prisons from private companies.
Last week representatives of the union visited the Mangaung Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein, Free State, from which convicted rapist and murderer Thabo Bester escaped in May 2022.
At a press conference in Pretoria on Wednesday Makhaza said Bester’s escape had been well planned and had taken place while some of the POPCRU members were off-duty.
“Bester got preferential treatment compared to other inmates, some of our members told us that once he had a birthday party. He wore a suit and addressed those attending. They revealed that he had high profile visitors while inside,” said Makhaza.
Makhaza said the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) had failed, as had the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Correctional Services which should have done its oversight work better. “They have been visiting this prison as a committee, they should have picked something up.”
“These private prisons are of no help to South Africa. They must be fully under the Department of Correctional Services. This Bester saga is an embarrassment to all of us linked to prisons,” he said.
Makhaza said prisons were overcrowded and understaffed.
“In that facility, there are certain cases where one female official looks after sixty inmates. Our country is coughing a lot of money to these private institutions, and for nothing. These companies are only chasing after profits and nothing else.”
Makhaza said G4S, which runs the Mangaung prison, “is not taking responsibility”.
“We still don’t know who the real person who died in that cell was, and we don’t know where they got the body. Mangaung management is still trying to hide a lot regarding the Bester escape,” said Makhaza.
He said prisons should function as they had under the apartheid regime and not “function like hotels”. “We hated the regime but we can take lessons from what worked. We would rather have public prisons that we have control of, than private prisons where we have no say on how things are run,” said Makhaza.
“If the government can strengthen correctional services, we can do away with private prisons,” he said.