UKZN duo’s prison ‘hell’

2016-10-24 12:17
Out on bail, two UKZN students Ntabane Kopedi (right) and Minenhle Sibisi spoke of their horrific experience in prison.

Out on bail, two UKZN students Ntabane Kopedi (right) and Minenhle Sibisi spoke of their horrific experience in prison. (Kailene Pillay)

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Crawling lice, stale bread and bartering their clothes with gang members for use of the toilet. These are just some of the “inhumane” conditions four University of KwaZulu-Natal students had to endure while in prison.

Now, out on bail, two of the students — Ntabane Kopedi and Minenhle Sibisi — told of their “traumatic” experience in prison.

Kopedi, a masters student studying animal science, was detained in New Prison for 20 days.

Sibisi is a third-year law student and was also detained for 20 days, but at the Westville Women’s Prison.

They were released on bail last week, but seven of their co-accused remain in custody until their next court appearance in December.

Ntabane Kopedi’s experience

“You had to learn how to survive knowing you are surrounded by murderers, rapists and robbers. Socialising with them was difficult psychologically,” Kopedi said.

He said he kept wondering if he would survive and if he did, how he would recover once outside prison.

“We walk on campus now and everyone looks at you like you are a criminal. We are criminals because that is what the court is saying we are,” he said.

Kopedi was arrested during the violent Fees Must Fall protests at UKZN in September.

He was placed in a small cell that housed about 10 people.

“We slept on the cold floors and had to share a bed sheet with others. Only the ‘bosses’ were allowed to sleep on the beds,” he said, adding he was forced to “cuddle” with other prisoners to keep warm.

His daily routine started with being woken up at 4 am when inmates were allowed to wash their faces. Showers were only allowed later in the day.

“Then we would line up and wait to be counted like animals,” he said.

Eating only two meals a day, Kopedi said breakfast consisted of “stale” bread and peanut butter.

He said the menu for their lunch never changed — brown phutu and cabbage.

“We were given milk that tasted like it was watered down,” he added.

Between meals, Kopedi said there was not much else to do but “sit and get depressed”.

He said the worst part was trying to survive two gangs — the 26s and 28s.

“Gang members would come to you and show you signs and if you didn’t know what they were doing, you would be punished,” he said.

When asked about the punishment, Kopedi said he did not think the public is ready to hear about it.

Kopedi said on one occasion, he was left stark naked while he sat on the cold concrete cell floor and faced the wall. After many hours another prisoner took pity on him and gave him some clothes to use.

“Everyone who wanted to be a boss did so via us.

“The prisoners would smoke whoonga and all other drugs in the cell. After they smoke, they are no longer humans. Prison was satanic,” he said.

Fellow students regularly visited Kopedi while in prison but he said they would often break down “at times when I needed them to be strong and give me strength”.

Kopedi, originally from Limpopo, said his parents are “completely broken” after his arrest.

He called on the community to step in and intervene to force the courts to release the other students. He said the “sympathisers” should intervene before a student is killed in prison.

“We are against public violence and we are not in solidarity with those who resort to violence,” Kopedi said.

Minenhle Sibisi’s
experience

Minenhle Sibisi was imprisoned with three other UKZN students in one cell at the Westville Prison.

“There were only three beds so we would alternate who would sleep on the floor,” she said.

Sibisi said they were woken up at 4 am and, after a wash, would go to breakfast which consisted of a cup of porridge, two slices of brown bread and a cup of tea. “I never drank the tea because there was always hair in it,” she said.

For lunch, they were given five slices of brown bread and potato curry.

She said for the first four days in prison, she and the other three UKZN students were punished for making their beds incorrectly by being made to clean all the cells in their block.

“Eventually another prisoner showed us the ‘prison way’ to make the bed,” she said.

“The shower was the most difficult. It was the dirtiest shower I had taken,” she said.

She said the conditions they were subjected to in prison were inhumane.

She said during the day and most nights they would sit and talk to each other, and weep together often. “We just had to make sure we survived another day, but it was so hard.”

Having been raised by her grandfather after both her parents died, Sibisi said her worst memory was when her grandfather visited her in prison.

“He said he never expected me to be here. I am the eldest and I have a younger sister who looks up to me,” Sibisi said as she burst into tears.

• kailene.pillay@witness.co.za

Responding to Weekend Witness questions,

Thulani Mdluli, spokesperson for correctional services said, “The allegations about students housed together with sentenced offenders are untrue.”

He said “all students (remand detainees)” at New Prison so far are kept in the remand section (Juvenile section) and there have been no complaints brought forward by any of these students.

He said they would investigate the issue to find out more.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  ukzn protests

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