Woman held hostage in Mangaung prison has been attacked before

A report by senior journalist, Ruth Hopkins

To read the story as it first appeared in The Star, click here

Mangaung prison

Woman held hostage in  prison has been attacked before

A prison warder has been taken hostage at Mangaung Prison in Bloemfontein. She was grabbed by inmates when they were let out of their cells for exercise yesterday morning.

The men dragged the woman into a cell and stabbed two warders who tried to intervene.

The woman is believed to be unqualified to act as a warder and has been attacked at the prison before. At the time of publication, global security firm G4S, who run the prison, were working with the SAPS’s elite Special Task Force to end the hostage crisis.

Prisoners have demanded a meeting with the acting national commissioner for the Department of Correctional Services, Nontsikelelo Jolingana. Correctional officials could not confirm whether the hostage had been raped.

The safety and security of warders at the Bloemfontein prison has been a big bone of contention between management and the union. Lawrence Msinto, regional secretary of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru), said :“Inmates attempted to rape this lady in 2009. We sent G4S management a petition that listed 30 violent incidents towards warders – the tip of the iceberg – and her case was included, yet they took no measures. They are arrogant.”

According to Popcru, the main problem is the ratio of warders to inmates. One unarmed warder has to oversee about 60 violent, gang affiliated inmates. They have unsuccessfully demanded increased manpower at the maximum security prison for years.

Safety and security concerns were at the heart of a serious labour conflict that came to a head in August, when the employees took collective sick leave. The Labour Court ruled that this amounted to an unprotected strike in terms of the Labour Relations Act, and it ordered all employees to go back to work. When the warders went on strike again last month, they were all dismissed by G4S.

Popcru said unqualified staff, trainees, administrative staff and workers from other branches of G4S have been roped in to replace the dismissed warders. Commenting on the hostage’s suitability for the job, Msinto said: “She has not worked in close contact with inmates for years. After the attempted rape in 2009, she worked as an administrative assistant.”

According to G4S policy, warders who have not worked in contact with inmates for more than three months are not qualified and need a refresher course.”

It is the third time a hostage incident has taken place in the prison. The G4S management had not responded to queries about the hostage-taking by by the time The Star went to press.

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About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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