Maximum crime behind bars
The corridors of Barberton Maximum Prison in Mpumalanga, where hardened criminals serve their sentences, have become a breeding ground for lawlessness – but officials are adamant that they are in control.
Arsenio Alves Dos Santos, an inmate at the prison, has blown the whistle on shenanigans taking place there and accused prison officials of complicity.
Dos Santos hails from Mozambique and is serving a 15-year sentence for armed robbery. He smuggled out documents and photographs to City Press with evidence detailing the following:
Prisoners being assaulted and stabbing each other;
Inmates manufacturing sharp weapons from their welding classes to commit crimes inside prison walls; and
Warders allowing prisoners to carry cellphones, which they use freely, and to smuggle pots to cook their favourite meals.
The prisoners are also allegedly assisted to access dagga.
Being allowed access to cellphones enabled Dos Santos to collect his evidence and communicate with people outside the prison, including City Press.
He claimed he tried to report the skulduggery directly to prison authorities and through spreading the message via Facebook, to no avail.
He has also written to the department of justice and correctional services, as well as to President Jacob Zuma and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa’s offices, but all his complaints have apparently fallen on deaf ears.
“I have also spoken to police and political parties via email, Facebook and WhatsApp, and even made calls,” said a frustrated Dos Santos.
Now he fears for his life, after warders and prisoners allegedly assaulted him and, on one occasion, a fellow inmate tried to stab him because of his attempts to expose the chicanery at the prison.
Dos Santos alleged that he was assaulted by prisoners and warders and put in solitary confinement for three months when he complained after a fellow inmate, Luis Phumbane Macamo, was cut by another prisoner with a blade across the face on April 1.
The prison’s management allegedly took no action until six days later, when Dos Santos reported the matter to Barberton police station.
Mpumalanga police spokesperson Sergeant Gerald Sedibe confirmed the existence of two criminal cases which Dos Santos claimed he opened after he was assaulted.
“One case is awaiting a decision from the prosecutor, while another has been withdrawn,” Sedibe said.
Department of correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said the department was aware of Dos Santos’ complaints, his alleged assault and Macamo’s cutting.
“Yes, disciplinary actions were taken against individuals involved in these transactions [smuggling cellphones and dagga]. It is for this reason that we have installed cellphone detectors and body scanners in some of our centres – to ensure that contraband items do not find a way inside correctional facilities,” Nxumalo said.
He added that an investigation was conducted into Macamo’s assault and concluded on September 1. However, he did not give details of the findings, saying a disciplinary process was started.
Regarding Dos Santos’ assault, he said: “The formal investigation was instituted, but it is not yet finalised.”
Kenneth Mthombeni, the correctional services area commissioner for Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West, dismissed Dos Santos’ claims as an attempt to get special treatment.
“You must know that we are keeping people in prison against their will. They lack discipline and think they can threaten us with the media.
“Some of them are immigrants who may have no say if they were imprisoned in their countries,” Mthombeni said.
He conceded that dagga and cellphones were found in prisons because they were smuggled by corrupt officials and inmates’ relatives.
“We search from time to time and discipline people. When we discipline them, they go to the media looking for sensationalism,” Mthombeni said.
CONTRABAND Dagga sold inside prison
DEADLY A prison weapon