‘No one will ever escape from Kokstad prison’

2013-10-15 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL Correctional Services regional commissioner Mnikelwa Nxele has vowed to resign from his job if any prisoner ever escapes from the Ebongweni Correctional Centre in Kokstad.

Ebongweni is described as the best prison for high-risk offenders, and some of South Africa’s most feared rapists and murderers are “guests of the commonwealth in that crossbar hotel”.

The prison has been in the news recently after reports that one of its more infamous inmates, Annanias Mathe, a convicted murderer and rapist serving 54 years, tried to escape again.

“The Minister of Correctional Services [Sbu Ndelele] said this [Ebongweni centre] is where all things end.

“High-risk offenders from all over South Africa are transferred here,” said Nxele last Friday, addressing members of the media who had been invited for a rare tour of the prison.

“Today, I put my head on the block to say that if any prisoner were to escape from this prison, I would walk away from this job.”

Nxele’s bold promise is not without foundation. The prison appears to be a fortress.

One official’s comment that the centre was a prison and not a children’s creche, rang true.

Walking into the institution — from the long passage down to the cells, the several imposing steel gates and the ever-watchful cameras — bar the prison guards, there is no life.

Prisoners remain in their cells 23 hours a day. They get one hour of exercise in an empty exercise room, the only room where they can smell fresh air.

Outside, the prison building is surrounded by at least four rows of fencing, including an electric fence, barbed wire and alarm systems, said to be sensitive enough to be triggered by snakes or birds. There are also cameras, and dog unit members patrol the perimeter.

Nxele said Mathe damaged at least two walls of different rooms and a door in his attempted escape.

Authorities believe he ripped out a steel rod from the door and used it to dig into the concrete walls, trying to access the water duct.

He was caught on September 24 by an officer who was on patrol. He had allegedly dug a line the length of a ruler and the depth of a pen into the wall.

Other prisoners being held at

C-Max include Thilili Mzimela, serving 91 years for a variety of crimes including escaping from lawful custody several times, and Thozamile Taki, who raped and killed 13 women.

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