Former inmate tells court he thought about killing himself after beating by prison officials

2019-11-07 14:27
Xolani Zulu told the court on Wednesday that he still suffers from physical and psychological damage after he was assaulted by prison officials at Leeuwkop Maximum Correctional Centre in 2014. (Zoë Postman, GroundUp)

Xolani Zulu told the court on Wednesday that he still suffers from physical and psychological damage after he was assaulted by prison officials at Leeuwkop Maximum Correctional Centre in 2014. (Zoë Postman, GroundUp)

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"At some point I even thought of killing myself. I felt so helpless and I was always thinking that someone was out to get me," says Xolani Zulu. He was telling the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday how he is still living with the consequences of what he experienced while a prisoner at Leeuwkop Maximum Correctional Centre.

He is one of five current and former inmates suing the state, alleging assault and torture by prison officials.

On Tuesday, he told the court that he was beaten, kicked and given electric shocks on August 10, 2014, after he jammed his cell door with a toothbrush to prevent prison officials from entering. This was in protest over collective punishment.

The court case started on October 28. Judge Ellem Jacob Francis is presiding and the plaintiffs are represented by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR).

Zulu said he still suffered from migraines, lower back and hip pain. He cannot lift heavy objects and still has problems urinating, which he blames on the electric shocks.

Zulu identified some of the prison officials sitting in the courtroom as the ones who had assaulted him.

Advocate Marumo Moerane, for the minister of justice and correctional services, cross-examined him.

He said Zulu was "completely unreasonable" for expecting to receive an immediate response from prison officials when he gave them the letter on a Saturday. He said the prison procedure was that a complaint would receive a response within seven days.

"For an inmate to block the cell door is a very serious matter," said Moerane.

Zulu responded: "Sometimes it’s the right thing, because it got me the attention I needed. That’s why we are here [in court] today." 

"Oh I see… so you anticipated that your obstructing the door would lead to an incident which would lead to a court action wherein you would be claiming damages for being assaulted?" asked Moerane.

"No, my anticipation was, since it’s a serious issue to block the door, then they will listen to me. I didn’t anticipate that I would be assaulted like that or assaulted at all," said Zulu.

Moerane said Zulu’s action had prevented other inmates in the cell from getting medication or breakfast that day.

But Zulu said he did not have to persuade the other inmates to cooperate because they all shared his grievance. He said the inmates agreed that he would be the only one locking the door and they agreed not to open the door when the officials came.

"I would not have been able to block the door if the other inmates did not agree, because I can’t overpower over 30 inmates by myself," said Zulu.

The trial continues on Thursday.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  prisons  |  courts
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