Prison’s dangerous gang culture exposed in court

2013-11-06 00:00

THE dangerous culture of gangsterism and violence at Westville Prison has been laid bare by a case in the Pietermaritzburg high court, which has heard details of plans of a mass escape.

The prison came under the spotlight last week when a raid unearthed 1 000 cellphones and other contraband in the possession of prisoners, and resulted in 12 warders being suspended.

Last Thursday a prisoner escaped onto a roof in Medium B section, and The Witness later reported that the prison’s CCTV system and metal detectors are not working.

In the case before court yesterday, the Correctional Services Department is opposing an application by prisoner Kerwin Bruce, who wants a transfer from Kokstad’s Ebongweni C-Max prison to Westville, or another prison where his family can see him.

In his affidavit Brian Mhlongo, KZN assistant director of Correctional Services, said Westville Prison is fraught with gang-related violence that is exceptionally difficult to control.

At Westville, Bruce had risen to the title of “general” of the “26” gang, he said.

Mhlongo said authorities had found knives and a cellphone in a cell, which were linked to Bruce and others. Implicated in an escape plot, Bruce was transferred to Kokstad on December 2 last year.

Bruce, who is serving a 44-year jail term for murder, robbery and kidnapping, says he enjoyed “A Group” privileges at Westville, which were immediately removed on his transfer to Kokstad, and he was classified a maximum security prisoner.

He complains that he was transferred without an inquiry or being given a chance to be heard.

But Mhlongo said the drastic step to transfer Bruce had been taken after the escape plot was uncovered last November, and amid fears that gang violence could erupt in the prison.

The cell was occupied by André Venter, a prisoner closely associated with Bruce.

During a “random search”, Venter was seen throwing away a bag containing knives and a cellphone, said Mhlongo.

The knives had been linked to Bruce.

The cellphone showed images of Venter brandishing a knife, a sketch of what appeared to be the layout of the prison courtyard and images of parts of the prison in restricted areas, including a restricted area frequently used as an escape exit.

Mhlongo said a catwalk photo was of “grave concern” because prison officials have to sign a register to enter the area.

He said the knives and images suggested that gang violence and a possible escape bid were “imminent”.

“In our experience the very fact that a gang member has access to dangerous weapons suggests that a gang-related attack is imminent,” he said.

Mhlongo said Bruce had declined to co-operate or make a statement ahead of his transfer.

He said Bruce had appeared before a parole board in Kokstad on August 22 this year, but was found to be unsuitable for parole.

The case was adjourned to December 6.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.