Officials from the KZN Department of Correctional Services have rubbished claims by New Prison inmates that they get mouldy bread and rotten food. Inmates contacted Weekend Witness alleging they were constantly sick because they were forced to eat rotten food.“The bread we eat is rock hard and most of the time it’s not buttered. Sometimes we are given bread with mould. People have opted not to eat that bread anymore but those on medication have no other choice but to eat it so they can take their meds,” said an inmate.They also complained that there are no windows in their cells and that the ventilation pipes are not working most of the time, “so it gets very stuffy and becomes very easy for us to be infected with diseases”.“Another problem we have is overcrowding. A cell [for] two inmates houses five. The communal cells are even worse. At night you can’t even go to the toilet because you have to step on other inmates sleeping all over the floor,” said the inmate.In response to an enquiry to the Correctional Services, Weekend Witness was invited to tour New Prison on Friday escorted by regional managers and local warders. Responding to the allegations by the inmates, head of correctional services at New Prison, Zekhaya Zimema, said inmates themselves kept the bread until it was mouldy to make home-brewed beer (umqombothi).“During Christmas and the festive season, we allowed inmates to receive food from their relatives outside.” He said the prisoners then kept the bread the prison supplied hidden for brewing umqombothi. “The bread company delivers here on a daily basis,” said Zimema.A picture sent to Weekend Witness by an inmate shows stale bread. Inmates at New Prison claim they are forced to eat this. In the kitchen some of the inmates were preparing to serve lunch while others cooked their supper. The Correctional Services officials tasted the food which included visibly fresh bread, phuthu, mash and gravy and grilled pork bites. The reporter was also allowed to taste the food.Mbuso Mchunu, regional co-ordinator for occupational health and safety at Correctional Services, said there was an Infection Prevention and Control Prevention programme where they randomly inspected different parts of the facility to see if they adhered to the proper standards of hygiene, food handling, cooking and how the food is stored.“We were here on Wednesday to inspect ... We found there were ventilation problems and addressed these,” said Mchunu.Weekend Witness was also escorted to two cells in two different sections to see that the ventilators were working well. Sibusiso Manyoni, in charge of nutrition at New Prison, eats freshly-cooked phuthu which inmates claim is sometimes rotten. The ventilators were working but the only windows in the cells opened up to passages and the foyer area. The officials admitted that sometimes the ventilators don’t work properly.On the issue of overcrowding, Vusumuzi Ndlovu, acting commissioner in the Pietermaritzburg management area, said this was a national problem.“New Prison has a capacity of 2 499 inmates but this morning we have 4 131 inmates which means we are over 65% above ... capacity,” he said.Ndlovu added that there is a new correctional centre due to open next month in Estcourt but said inmates from all across the province would be distributed equally to the new centre.Inmates at New Prison gather in the foyer area outside the cells which they complain have no proper ventilation.