Inmate's SMSs reveal prison scandal

2014-06-15 16:02
(City Press)

(City Press)

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Johannesburg - Graphic details of what happens inside a 168m² cell in Leeuhof Prison, outside Vereeniging, were revealed to City Press in 300 text messages and 80 cellphone pictures by inmate and fraud accused Eugene Viljoen.

Viljoen - who for three months shared the cell with more than 50 other inmates - has two cellphones he used to record how he and his cellmates regularly smuggled vast quantities of drugs into the prison.

"How do 200 Mandrax tablets, 10 bags Swazi dagga, heroin and needles sound? They came in today!" he texted on 29 May just after 19:00.

"The cells are blue with smoke with no guard in sight."

Minutes later, he sent a series of photographs of him and his cellmates smoking dagga and Mandrax through an apple pipe. The rest of the drugs were hidden in a plumbing hole in the bathroom from which corrupt prison guards distributed and sold them to inmates in the rest of the prison.

"In here they smuggle dagga, phones, Mandrax, heroin, all at a price. Guards do anything for money, anything. Everyone is corrupt," Viljoen texted.

While awaiting trial, prisoners exercise twice a week for two hours, those who want sex stay behind in cell 14. That’s when the rapes take place.

Viljoen texted on 28 May: “Wyfies are bought, the guard brings him in for R100. Two stand at the door and keep guard. The guy being raped gets R50. There have been cases of eight guys on one guy in cell 19. They bring in the juveniles from the other side [of the prison] into the cell.”

Viljoen’s revelations of what goes on in Leeuhof, one of Gauteng’s largest prisons, is arguably the most serious since the Jali Commission of Inquiry into corruption, maladministration and violence in the country’s prisons.

In 2001, prisoners including convict-turned-businessman Gayton McKenzie in Bloemfontein’s Grootvlei Prison filmed large-scale corruption, including a juvenile prisoner being sold for sex and warders smuggling in a loaded gun, alcohol and food.

Leeuhof, an extensive double-storey complex, hit the headlines last year following allegations of corruption and sodomy. Prisoners claimed juveniles were detained with adults and were routinely being raped.

Viljoen texted City Press for the first time on 19 May: “The state says everything is safe, there’s no corruption, no dagga, no fights, no stabbings. That’s not true. Leeuhof is the most corrupt place there is.”

Viljoen, who joined the 26s prisons gang, admits he became one of the biggest smugglers in the prison during his three months in cell 14. He proved it in a series of photographs.

“Guards do anything for money, anything. I learnt quickly I had to survive inside. I’m well protected, I’m a 26. The numbers [gangs] control Leeuhof,” he said.

“All the smuggled stuff comes through the guards. The guards all work together and bring it to the cells for payment.”

City Press visited Viljoen on 3 June. His mother Marie du Plooy brought six plastic shopping bags containing food and groceries to her son that day and paid a guard not to search them.

Viljoen says large amounts of drugs, alcohol and even knives enter the prison in this way. The guards bring them to the cells. “The guards are so busy smuggling and making money that they do not take notice of what’s going on. My mother gave a guard R50 today to let my things go through. Now he wants a new kettle, can you believe it?” he texted two days later.

Du Plooy owns a guesthouse in the Vaal where guards who stay for a night get “treated”.

“Guard Justice wants to go and sleep in the guesthouse with his girl on Tuesday night. He said if I arrange it for him, he will bring me anything, just what I want. It’s part of the payment,” he texted on 2 June.

'Guards too fat to get into mineshaft'

Between 19 May and 9 June, several large orders of drugs – including heroin, tik, nyaope, Mandrax and dagga – were delivered to cell 14 and others in Leeuhof. Viljoen sent pictures as proof.

On 22 May, he texted: “Ok, we’re ready for smuggling tomorrow. Someone outside has paid money. We have sent a guard to draw it. He takes R50 for himself. He brings in a bank bag of Swazi [dagga].”

On 24 May: “There were 18 bank bags of dagga smuggled in on Thursday. They take a packet of sugar, open it, push the dagga in, stick it closed again. Tomorrow morning at four, there are 10 plastic bags coming in via the bread truck, everyone is already paid via Moneygram.”

On 26 May: “I understand there are 100 Mandrax tablets coming in via a visitor on Tuesday, also in sugar.” And later that day: “Knives are smuggled in from the kitchen, in the dishes among the food, through all the security, porridge, meat, soup.”

On 28 May: “I am sending you four photos showing how we smoke Mandrax tablets, crushed, mixed with Swazi dagga, through an apple. The apple is hollowed out on top with a hole underneath”.

On 2 June: “There are 500 Mandrax tablets coming in tomorrow. It’s in packets of chips, torn open on top, all the chips thrown out, the tablets thrown in – 50 per bag – throw chips back in and stick it together. There are 10 packs Simba ordered for tomorrow, everything’s in order [sic].”

On 5 June: “I understand tomorrow’s order is placed. Again 500 Mandrax tablets, crystal, tik, nyaope and 30 bank bags of dagga.” Nyaope is a cheap but lethal concoction of heroin and dagga, which often contains rat poison.

The following day: “The first parcel of Mandrax and dagga is in. Every one through visitors, how much I do not know.”

Viljoen said the drugs were hidden in the "mineshaft" - the plumbing hole under the wash basins.

"All the drugs, weapons, dagga and whatever are wrapped up and hidden in the hole. The guards know about the hole but they are too fat to get into it."

He sent pictures of a cellmate crawling inside to replace and remove the drugs and cellphones they hide there.

"Everything... is smuggled out of the mineshaft... crystal, bags full of Mandrax tablets, bags of dagga, everything you can imagine is in the mineshaft,” he texted.

"The guards sit in the office or out in the sun. Everyone walks around, everything in their pockets. We have runners who distribute among the cells. Nobody messes about with payment, everything cash."

Viljoen was sentenced to three months in prison on Monday for violating his bail conditions. He was transferred to the section for sentenced prisoners in Leeuhof that day.

That night, he texted: "The mineshaft looks exactly the same as in my old cell. Here the guards also bring anything in for money. It’s bad, in your life you will never imagine how it looks here."

What the prisons say

The judicial inspectorate for correctional services agreed on Friday to ensure Eugene Viljoen was moved to a single cell for his protection. It also promised to thoroughly investigate his allegations. Officers from the Hawks raided cell 14 on Thursday.

Late on Monday, Viljoen was transferred to the sentenced prisoners’ section of Leeuhof Prison.

The Hawks team, led by Lieutenant Colonel Sakkie Ludick, seized 11 cellphones, eight SIM cards and several hundred rand. They found no drugs, probably because they had already been smoked and spread throughout the prison. The investigation continues.

Late last week, Viljoen asked Pretoria private investigator Mike Bolhuis to help him and on Friday Bolhuis met the head of the judicial inspectorate, Judge Vuka Tshabalala, and inspectorate CEO Mike Masondo.

All the text messages and cellphone pictures Viljoen sent City Press were handed over to them.

On Friday, City Press also handed Viljoen’s text messages and pictures to the correctional services department, at Viljoen’s request. Requests for comment from the department sent on Friday morning went unanswered.

Viljoen’s disclosures seem to confirm a state of chaos in the country’s prison system.

Carolyn Raphaely of the Wits Justice Project, which investigates prison conditions, says the conditions in cell 14 are common in all the country’s jails.

In February, City Press’s sister paper, Rapport, reported that two of the Water­kloof Four killers were treated to takeaways, satellite TV, long sessions in the gym and even alcohol during their more than five years in prison.

They also had cellphones, which they used to film their antics.

“What we should be concerned about is the endemic levels of corruption, mismanagement and failure to punish those who not only allow these violations to occur but actively encourage them,” said Raphaely.

There are 157 500 prisoners in South Africa, about 44 000, or just under 30%, of whom are awaiting trial.

Research by the Wits Justice Project and the Helen

Suzman Foundation found that 40% of all awaiting-trial prisoners are either found not guilty or have the cases against them withdrawn.

“This means a staggering number of innocent people are being kept in jail,” the two organisations found in a report released earlier this year.

Viljoen’s cellmates, alleged robber Thabo Lepota and robbery and murder suspects Emmanuel Nchunu and Siphiwe Kambule, have been awaiting trial for more than two years.

The conditions in cell 14 are appalling.

“There are more cockroaches in the cells than people. I’ve had a tin of Doom smuggled in via my mother. The bacteria physically eat your body, everybody walks around scratching, I bath twice a day in at basin,” Viljoen texted.

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