Pollsmoor conditions still poor
Nutrition not sufficient
A FORMER prison doctor who blew the whistle on health conditions at Pollsmoor Prison – losing his job in the process – says the situation is still as bad as ever, if not worse.
And he believes that privatising the catering at the overcrowded prison contributed to the poor nutrition of inmates, leading to diseases such as tuberculosis.
Dr Paul Theron, who was suspended in 2007 after complaining about conditions to the then-inspecting judge of prisons, Nathan Erasmus, said privatisation was a “moneymaking racket” which encouraged contractors to cut corners and use cheaper foods.
“Even the way they sliced the bread meant there was less, and they served some kind of lard or margarine, not butter.”
Theron, who now works as a clinical forensic practitioner at Somerset Hospital, said: “There was a constant emphasis on security yet the prisoners were still under the control of gangs when they were locked up.”
Gangs often stole other inmates’ food and with the nutritional value already compromised, it had a big impact on health. “We also had to use these electronic tags, but they never worked and everyone was always getting stuck and unable to move around.”
Then Minister of Correctional Services, Ngconde Bal- four, who dropped a R500 000 defamation charge against Theron, was among those caught in the faulty system. He had been searching for Theron over a letter the doctor had written in support of a staff member who had been suspended. But while on the warpath Balfour got stuck between two sets of gates and had to bellow for help.
Theron said the whole system was “ripe for cheating, stealing and lying”. No one could understand, for example, why cleaners from an outside company were brought in to clean the streets in the prison complex when the inmates could have done it for nothing.
“They are locked up for 23 out of 24 hours and I’m sure would prefer to do the work.”
Ironically Theron now often treats Pollsmoor patients at Somerset Hospital. They come to him via the courts.
It has given the doctor an opportunity to realise that the situation remains problematic.
Theron said that he had hoped that the parliamentary portfolio committee would have applied pressure after visiting Pollsmoor, but it appeared that any improvements made had been superficial.
Theron said he didn’t regret being a whistle-blower even though it had taken a heavy toll on his health. He collapsed and nearly died last year after developing pneumonia.
The Bosasa Group, which was awarded contracts worth R1.7 billion by the Department of Correctional Services, for catering, security and fences, is under investigation by the National Prosecuting Authority’s Special Investigations Unit.
The chief operating officer at the time, Patrick Gillingham, and chief accounting officer, Linda Mti, have both been accused of receiving millions of rands in alleged kickbacks. Opposition parties also want Balfour, now SA’s High Com- missioner in Botswana, to explain to Parliament why the Bosasa contract was renewed when there had already been allegations of substantial maladministration and suspected fraud.
CONCERNED: Dr Paul Theron says conditions at Pollsmoor Prison remain poor.