Attemptmpt to burn downn Mohale’s Hoekk prison on Christmasstmas day
STARVING inmates tried to burn down Mohale’s Hoek Prison and make a getaway on Christmas day after being denied food for two consecutive days by striking warders, the Lesotho Times has learnt.
However, the situation was later brought under control by the warders who had realised things were getting out of control, but the prison had already been damaged.
Guards at almost all the country’s prisons embarked on a go-slow three weeks ago to press government into reviewing their salaries and rank structure.
The industrial action started at Maseru Central Prison but has since spread to other institutions throughout the country. As part of the go-slow, the guards have been refusing to take inmates to the courts, and also denying prisoners any visits from their relatives.
However, last week’s refusal to feed the inmates was another twist to the go-slow, which the guards have vowed to continue until their grievances have been fully addressed.
The Lesotho Correctional Service Staff Association (LECCSA) chairperson, Lebonajoang Ramohalali on Tuesday this week confirmed the Mohale’s Hoek fiasco, which he said could have had dire consequences for the country.
Chief Officer Ramohalali told the Lesotho Times: “What happened was Mohale’s Hoek Prison guards denied inmates their meals on 24 and 25 December, as part of the goslow which has been going on since 12 December.
“This was one way of showing the authorities that the go-slow was still on, and would not stop until the grievances over salaries and a new rank structure, which have been outstanding since 2011, have been addressed.
“However, the response from the inmates was devastating because after going for two days without food, they could not take it anymore, so they tried to break out of the prison.
“However, their attempts to burn down the facility failed although some damage was done to the prison as they tried set themselves free.
“The situation was later brought under control by the warders who could see that things were now getting out of hand, but the fact of the matter is that this go-slow is not going to stop until the government has addressed our grievances.”
The Ministry of Justice and Correctional service Principal secretary (PS), Teboho Mohlomi, also confirmed the damage to the Mohale’s Hoek Prison, but denied Mr Ramohalali’s claims that the pris- oners had gone for two days without being fed.
“The damage to Mohale’s Hoek Prison is huge because the inmates hammered the walls until they cracked and also tried to poke some holes in the walls in order to escape. Luckily, none of them succeeded to get away but the damage is going to cost the Lesotho Correctional Service a lot of money,” Mr Mohlomi said.
According to Mr Mohlomi, the inmates also burnt their clothing and blankets in an effort to destroy the prison.
“They even burnt their own clothes and prison blankets and I think they wanted to set the whole place ablaze and then escape. I believe they wanted to take advantage of the warders’ go-slow and make their getaway,” Mr Mohlomi added.
“However, this issue that the inmates had not been fed for two days is not true at all because I have not been told this was the reason why they decided to riot.”
Asked what could have caused the revolt then, the PS said the inmates simply wanted to take advantage of the guards’ go-slow.
“They realised the go-slow was on-going and simply wanted to take advantage of the situation”
However, Mr Mohlomi would not say when the guards’ grievances would be addressed: “The government and LCS authorities are discussing the issue.
“I can’t say when exactly this crisis is going to be resolved but like I said, the relevant authorities are discussing this matter. As soon as the talks are complete, then the LCS officers will have their salaries adjusted.”
Repeated efforts to get a comment from Justice and Correctional Services minister, Motlohi Maliehe were fruitless yesterday as his mobile phone was continuously on voicemail.
Justice and Correctional Services minister Motlohi Maliehe