An­gry warders and in­mates threaten strike ac­tions

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - KHAYA KOKO Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Malibongwe Maqhina

PRIS­ON­ERS could be left vul­ner­a­ble dur­ing the 21-day na­tional lock­down as an­gry warders in fear of their lives threaten strike ac­tion over an al­leged lack of pro­tec­tion from coro­n­avirus.

This comes as pris­on­ers have also threat­ened to go on hunger strike from mid­night as in­mates who spoke to The Star, both from male and fe­male cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties, slammed the lack of test­ing and pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures given to them to com­bat the deadly virus.

South Africa has about 240 prison fa­cil­i­ties with a pop­u­la­tion of more than 154 200 in­mates, in­clud­ing thou­sands of warders.

More than a dozen prison warders, whose iden­ti­ties will be pro­tected, from across the coun­try told The Star that they were made to work for al­most two weeks without any screen­ing, sani­tis­ers or other pre­cau­tions to com­bat the coro­n­avirus.

The warders as­serted that noth­ing has been done since Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa an­nounced a na­tional state of dis­as­ter two weeks ago, and the 21-day na­tional lock­down an­nounced on Mon­day which be­gins at mid­night.

This de­spite the Department of Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices (DCS) com­pil­ing a con­fi­den­tial op­er­a­tional plan for its em­ploy­ees that The Star has seen and which in­cludes mea­sures to pro­tect work­ers and in­mates.

The op­er­a­tional plan, which was signed by pris­ons com­mis­sioner Arthur Fraser, calls for sani­ti­sa­tion of cells, re­cep­tion ar­eas and se­cu­rity equip­ment while as­sign­ing an of­fi­cial to sani­tise em­ploy­ees, in­mates and other vis­i­tors.

None of the warders that The Star spoke to have seen the plan.

“Ev­ery day, warders go in and out of cen­tres without any screen­ing done. Shame, none of the in­mates have been screened to date. We will go on strike from Mon­day and we’ll see who will guard vi­o­lent in­mates,” said a warder from a Gaut­eng max­i­mum se­cu­rity prison.

The warder’s views were echoed by a fu­ri­ous col­league in Port El­iz­a­beth, who asked why await­ing-trial pris­on­ers were still ad­mit­ted to the city’s cen­tre without screen­ing or sani­ti­sa­tion.

“Also, Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa said there must be no vis­its to prison, but here in PE we’re con­tin­u­ing with no safety equip­ment and I’m so p **** d off,” the warder stated.

A fe­male pris­oner in a Gaut­eng max­i­mum se­cu­rity prison said that although she knew she wronged so­ci­ety through an armed rob­bery, she was also hu­man and had con­sti­tu­tional rights for her health to be pro­tected.

“The govern­ment claims there are no Covid-19 cases in our fa­cil­ity, but no test­ing or screen­ings have been done. So we’re push­ing ahead with our na­tional hunger strike.”

The Star has seen a com­mu­nique sent to at least 12 pris­ons to ob­serve the hunger strike un­til they’re pro­tected.

In a state­ment to The Star, the department asked “not to be side­tracked by the­atri­cals”, say­ing a se­cu­rity plan was in place and it was “mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion”. It said fa­cil­i­ties would func­tion, but cer­tain activities such as vis­i­ta­tions would be sus­pended.

“The department ac­ti­vated in­fec­tion pre­ven­tion con­trol mea­sures at all man­age­ment ar­eas with spe­cific di­rec­tives to en­sure that personal pro­tec­tive equip­ment is availed and has pushed for the san­i­ta­tion of re­cep­tion ar­eas, cells, of­fices, ve­hi­cles and ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

“Con­tain­ment and treat­ment mea­sures will be ac­ti­vated in the event of a staff mem­ber or in­mate pop­u­la­tion con­tract­ing the virus. It will be im­por­tant that im­me­di­ate steps are taken to pre­vent other of­fi­cials, in­mates and stake­hold­ers from be­ing ex­posed to fur­ther in­fec­tions. These will in­clude iso­la­tion of the pre­sump­tive cases, quar­an­tine and re­fer­rals of the con­firmed cases to the des­ig­nated pro­vin­cial hos­pi­tals for fur­ther treat­ment,” the department said.

But the warders, on be­ing shown this re­sponse, all claimed that the department was ly­ing, which would lead to the in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of the strike.

The Pub­lic Ser­vants As­so­ci­a­tion said it was con­cerned that se­verely un­der­staffed cor­rec­tional cen­tres were not ad­e­quately pre­pared for a Covid-19 out­break.

“Mem­bers at various cen­tres have in­di­cated that al­most two weeks since South Africa’s first con­firmed case of Covid-19, cor­rec­tional cen­tres do not have ad­e­quate gloves, masks and hand sani­tis­ers.

“With the DCS un­der­staffed by al­most 16 000 of­fi­cials, an out­break in cor­rec­tional cen­tres will have cat­a­strophic con­se­quences for both of­fi­cials and in­mates.”

It also said it was in dis­pute with DCS on staff short­ages. |

| THO­BILE MATHONSI African News Agency (ANA)

COR­REC­TIONAL Ser­vices work­ers have threat­ened to strike from Mon­day over an al­leged lack of Covid-19 pro­tec­tion from the govern­ment.

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