Warders ‘ripping off prisons’

2013-01-31 00:00

CRIME syndicates operating in KwaZulu-Natal prisons are trying to blacken his name, but Correctional Services regional commissioner Mnikelwa Nxele says he will stand firm in his fight against corruption.

Nxele was commenting on a Witness front page story on Tuesday in which three prison officials alleged he had assaulted a subordinate for not carrying out his instruction to shoot a fleeing colleague who had allegedly stolen diesel.

The Witness did not name Nxele at the time, as attempts to get his side of the story were unsuccessful. But yesterday he granted a wide-ranging interview in which he denied having assaulted anyone.

The drama that occurred at Sevontein prison was a far more complex tale involving crime syndicates operating in the prison, allegedly with the collusion of Correctional Services staff, Nxele said.

Sevontein prison had been on his radar because of the theft of cattle, diesel and state vehicles.

The prison, like all other correctional facilities, was subject to visits by senior officials day or night.

On the night in question, Nxele arrived at the prison gate and signed in.

The first thing he noticed was that there was a vehicle parked inside, yet the number plate was not recorded in the visitors’ book, Nxele said.

When he asked a warder why the vehicle was there, he was told that the car “was there to be washed”.

“You don’t wash a car in the middle of the night.” Nxele said.

On investigation, an off-duty warder was caught red-handed with a large amount of diesel.

The suspect tried to flee and Nxele told a prison official to close the gate. When the official failed to do so, he ordered him to fire a warning shot, Nxele said.

“I did not hit him. I want to place it on record that in my capacity as the regional commissioner I did order him to fire a warning shot.

“I told him that he was supposed to have closed the gate to prevent the suspect from fleeing and that he was just a spectator there when he was supposed to be in control of the situation.

“I made it clear to him that it appeared to me that some sort of collusion was going on.”

He had since asked for all the records of diesel purchases and use at the prison, Nxele said.

“It is clear that something is wrong at Sevontein. As regional commissioner, I have a responsibility to restore order. I have to ensure the proper management of our prisons and that taxpayers money is not wasted.”

It was “strange” that the official had not mentioned any assault when the police arrived that night.

However, an internal investigation had subsequently uncovered that a syndicate had allegedly forced the official to lay a charge with the police, Nxele said.

The police called him yesterday morning and an appointment was made for today, as they were investigating a case of common assault against him.

Nxele, who has been the subject of several news reports over the years, acknowledged he was not “always popular”.

He believed he was being targeted because disgruntled staff members were using the media to try and discredit him.

Then there were the syndicates who were “spreading stories”, Nxele said.

“In the scheme of things, if you stand firm, all sorts of allegations are bound to surface.”

As for the warders who were allegedly colluding with syndicates, he said: “In the end you cannot be in charge of rehabilitating criminals while aspiring to be one yourself.”

The police are investigating.

• nalini@witness.co.za

TWO men, Sibongeseni Mkhize (41) and Msizi Ngcobo (31), arrested in connection with theft of diesel at Sevontein prison, will be back in court on February 12. They appeared in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court on Monday after they were allegedly caught at the prison last week with six 25-litre plastic containers full of diesel.

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