Tor­tured BE­HIND BARS

CityPress - - News -

In March, Kgolofelu Khoza was al­legedly chained in a crouch­ing po­si­tion to a door in an iso­la­tion unit – also known as the “bomb cells” – at Jo­han­nes­burg Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre. He claims he was kept there for two days and a night. “They first bound my feet with leg irons and then they slipped my hands be­tween my legs and cuffed them, and then fixed the other end of the cuffs to the grill door,” Khoza told hu­man rights lawyer Egon Oswald, who con­sulted with Khoza.

He gave Oswald per­mis­sion to share the de­tails of the con­sul­ta­tion with the Wits Jus­tice Pro­ject.

The depart­ment of cor­rec­tional ser­vices de­nies that Khoza was treated this way and, in an email to the Wits Jus­tice Pro­ject, pointed out that Khoza had a record of dis­ci­plinary in­frac­tions, in­clud­ing throw­ing fae­ces at of­fi­cials. They de­clined to pro­vide any proof of this record.

How­ever, in­mates Loy­iso Bera and Nonku­l­uleko Mantshonga, who were kept in the same unit, claimed they saw Khoza shack­led to the door. Mantshonga told Oswald that he was walk­ing from the show­ers to his cell when he saw a group of warders try­ing to chain Khoza to the door.

“I told them I was go­ing to re­port them,” he said. The of­fi­cials con­tin­ued to chain Khoza and al­legedly left him there for eight hours with­out pro­vid­ing him with an op­por­tu­nity to stretch, go to the toi­let or eat.

The Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices Act out­laws seg­re­ga­tion as a form of pun­ish­ment. The Anti-Tor­ture Act de­fines tor­ture as an in­ten­tional act that causes se­vere phys­i­cal or men­tal pain com­mit­ted by a pub­lic official for the pur­pose of ob­tain­ing in­for­ma­tion or a con­fes­sion, or to pun­ish, in­tim­i­date or co­erce.

While South Africa’s his­tory is mired in state­spon­sored tor­ture that saw many peo­ple killed, in­jured and trau­ma­tised, the rise of tor­ture in pris­ons and po­lice cells re­mains un­no­ticed, un­der­re­ported and unchecked.

De­spite the pro­mul­ga­tion of the Anti-Tor­ture Act in 2013, and dozens of doc­u­mented cases of tor­ture every year by the Ju­di­cial In­spec­torate for Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices (Jics) and the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice In­ves­tiga­tive Direc­torate (Ipid), there have been hardly any pros­e­cu­tions.

In­stead of in­ves­ti­gat­ing the prison warders at the Jo­han­nes­burg Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre, com­monly known as Sun City, who al­legedly broke in­mate Melosi Lephote Sithebe’s arm in sev­eral places, prison au­thor­i­ties trans­ferred Sithebe to Leeuwkop Prison.

Sithebe had ap­plied for per­mis­sion, which was granted, to or­der a clock ra­dio. In Fe­bru­ary last year, mem­bers of his fam­ily de­liv­ered the ra­dio.

“I kept ask­ing for the ra­dio, but the re­spon­si­ble warder wouldn’t give it to me. By the end of March, I had had enough. Out of frus­tra­tion, I threw my food on the floor,” Sithebe said.

He al­leges that two warders then beat him up in the su­per­vi­sor’s of­fice.

“They used the short ends of their ba­tons to beat me. I had my arm in front of my face. My watch fell off while they were beat­ing me ... they just beat me more and I lost the watch.

“They then took me to the iso­la­tion unit and started beat­ing me again in the pas­sage close to the unit. When I looked up, I saw about four warders as­sault­ing me ... There was a lot of blood on me and on the floor. The warders or­dered me to clean up.”

He was then taken to the hospi­tal unit where he told the nurse that his arm was bro­ken, but she said he was not a doc­tor and gave him painkillers, oint­ment and an in­jec­tion.”

Sithebe had to wait for five days be­fore he could see a doc­tor at Chris Hani Barag­wanath Hospi­tal, who con­firmed that there was a “com­min­uted frac­ture” in the bone in Sithebe’s left fore­arm, which means the bone was splin­tered in many places. He also sus­tained sev­eral wounds on his legs. The scars are still vis­i­ble.

The Wits Jus­tice Pro­ject has seen Sithebe’s med­i­cal files – which con­firm his in­juries – in which prison au­thor­i­ties claim he “al­legedly fell in prison”, fol­lowed by the doc­tor’s ob­ser­va­tion that he “was as­saulted”.

When Sithebe tried to re­port the as­sault, he was quickly trans­ferred to Leeuwkop, where the Wits Jus­tice Pro­ject spoke to him.

Asked to re­spond to the med­i­cal ev­i­dence that con­firms Sithebe’s arm was bro­ken, Lo­gan Maistry, spokesper­son for the depart­ment of cor­rec­tional ser­vices, said: “Min­i­mum force was ef­fected in line with the Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices Act. The of­fender was ex­am­ined by health­care pro­fes­sion­als within the hospi­tal sec­tion of the cen­tre. Fur­ther­more, a case of as­sault was reg­is­tered against the of­fender.”

Sithebe de­nied as­sault­ing in­mates or of­fi­cials. Jics in­ves­ti­gated the com­plaint and con­cluded: “Prima fa­cie, it ap­pears that the in­mate was the ag­gres­sor, but the na­ture of the in­juries al­lude to se­ri­ous force be­ing ap­plied.

In May, an­other spate of vi­o­lence saw sev­eral in­mates wounded and in­jured in the prison. On May 7, a So­mali na­tional, Mo­hammed Yusuf You­nis, al­leged that warders kicked, hit and pep­per-sprayed him when they found a cell­phone in his pos­ses­sion.

“A warder held my arms while an­other punched me re­peat­edly in the face. I fell down. The warder kicked me many times in the stom­ach. He also sprayed pep­per spray di­rectly into my eyes,” You­nis told Oswald, who con­sulted with him two days af­ter the as­sault.

Like Sithebe, You­nis also al­leges that he was de­nied med­i­cal treat­ment at the prison hospi­tal af­ter the as­sault. Oswald ob­served two bro­ken teeth, mul­ti­ple bruises and abra­sions, a swollen right lower jaw and a “pro­nounced limp” in You­nis.

Boi­tumelo Mpane and Sid­well Pule My­ocwame say they were as­saulted on the same day.

“I re­call a warder pulling back the panel on the cell door and then spray­ing pep­per spray into the cell,” My­ocwame told Oswald three days af­ter the as­sault.

Mpane said: “I was beaten and kicked re­peat­edly with ba­tons, fists and hands.”

Maistry, on be­half of the depart­ment, said the in­mates were block­ing the door, which was why pep­per spray was used.

“No case of as­sault has been laid by in­mate Mpane. Al­le­ga­tions of as­sault by in­mate My­ocwame are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated,” he said.

In its most re­cent 2015/16 an­nual re­port, Jics, a semi-gov­ern­men­tal prison watch­dog, wrote that it had seen an in­crease in in­mate com­plaints about vi­o­lence: 810 com­plaints about as­sault from warders, 364 about in­hu­man treat­ment and 15 com­plaints about tor­ture.

The data also re­veal that the use of force in cor­rec­tional cen­tres shot up to 619 re­ported in­ci­dents this year, com­pared with 461 re­ported in­ci­dents in 2014/15. Umesh Raga, the head of le­gal ser­vices at Jics, in­di­cated that it would in­ves­ti­gate the al­le­ga­tions and pub­lish a re­port.

“We have de­cided to launch a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion into each al­le­ga­tion. We will also ex­am­ine the pos­si­ble sys­temic prac­tices,” he said. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion has not yet been fi­nalised.

In 2014, Jus­tice and Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices Min­is­ter Michael Ma­sutha, pre­sented wor­ry­ing sta­tis­tics in Par­lia­ment. In 2013/2014 there were

1 298 of­fi­cer as­saults on in­mates, yet only 19 of­fi­cials were con­victed – two of whom re­ceived a sus­pended sen­tence. From 2011 to 2014 a to­tal of 3 440 in­mates were as­saulted, but only 40 of these as­saults re­sulted in a con­vic­tion.

The Ipid re­ported in their 2015/2016 an­nual re­port that two po­lice of­fi­cials were pros­e­cuted and con­victed for tor­ture. They were fined R500 and R12 000 re­spec­tively.

In 2014, Clare Bal­lard, a pe­nal re­form at­tor­ney with Lawyers for Hu­man Rights, rep­re­sented five in­mates who say 12 warders tor­tured them in Leeuwkop Prison. They say they were elec­troshocked, anally searched, beaten and kicked. Two in­de­pen­dent doc­tors con­firmed the ex­ten­sive in­juries – con­tu­sions, burn marks, bruis­ing, lac­er­a­tions and swellings.

De­spite the ex­ten­sive med­i­cal ev­i­dence of tor­ture and abuse – some­thing in­mates usu­ally strug­gle to ob­tain – the Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Author­ity (NPA) de­clined to pros­e­cute. Bal­lard ap­pealed the de­ci­sion not to pros­e­cute and, three years af­ter the case be­gan, the NPA agreed to re­open the case if the in­mates sus­pended their ap­peal.

How­ever, there is seem­ingly still lit­tle will to pros­e­cute prison of­fi­cials for the al­leged tor­ture.

On May 30, the pros­e­cu­tor sent Bal­lard a dis­heart­en­ing email: “I still have not re­ceived the com­pleted in­ves­ti­ga­tion from Sand­ton SA Po­lice Ser­vice. I would sug­gest that you con­tact Colonel Kil­lian [the in­ves­ti­gat­ing SAPS of­fi­cer] to get the sta­tus of this mat­ter.”

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PHOTO: LISA SKIN­NER

NO ES­CAPE De­spite ex­ten­sive med­i­cal ev­i­dence of the phys­i­cal abuse of scores of in­mates, prison of­fi­cials are rarely in­ves­ti­gated and pros­e­cuted

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