Prisoners threaten hunger strike if Covid-19 fears are not addressed


Prisoners across the country have threatened to embark on a massive hunger strike as of Monday in a bid for an early release from prison and also to try to avoid contacting the Covid-19 coronavirus in overcrowded jails.

This after many prisoners – who spoke anonymously to City Press from different prisons – claimed that they would end up leaving their cells in body bags than walking out freely.

This week 38 inmates and 56 prison officials were confirmed to have tested positive for Covid-19 – and most were from the Eastern Cape.

The South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights (Sapohr) released a statement demanding that the correctional services department announce a strategy on how it would alleviate the chronic overcrowding and save the lives of inmates facing the threat of Covid-19.

Sapohr’s chief executive officer and prison rights activist, Golden Miles Bhudu, said his organisation was demanding answers by Monday or it “will lead to Sapohr to call on its members, supporters and sympathisers to embark on an indefinite passive resistance, which includes downing tools, passive hunger strikes, disobedience, and nudity”.

Bhudu said that this would continue until their demands were met.

Golden Miles Bhudu
Golden Miles Bhudu. Picture: Letlhogonolo Mashego

Sapohr’s demands come days after it issued another statement lashing out at Correctional Services and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, saying that he accused prisoners of using fake news in their bid to try to get out of prison.

Bhudu said: “He should have consulted with other role players, who have been on the field long before he dreamt, in his wildest imagination, that one day, he would become the minister of both correctional services and justice. He should have kept quiet, sat down, listened, taken notes and gone away for a week or two, and come back and responded on the notes.”

Sapohr said it would hold Lamola entirely responsible for any Covid-19 deaths in prisons – for both prisoners and prison staff.

This week 38 inmates and 56 prison officials were confirmed to have tested positive for Covid-19 – and most were from the Eastern Cape.

On Friday the department’s spokesperson, Sengabakho Nxumalo, responded by condemning Bhudu and his organisation and accused them of trying to cause anarchy.

“It must be indicated that such a call by Mr Bhudu is very reckless and irresponsible. Basically, this is mobilisation of inmates to fight the state.

There is basically no reason to instigate inmates to fight the state as measures are in place in response to Covid-19.

“We continue to challenge those making unfounded allegations to prove that we have failed to deliver the required necessities. Questions have been raised about the impact that the correctional system is likely to face during the state of disaster. The complexity is brought by what has been happening in other countries as they battle the virus.

“As a department, we continue to detail our plans and respond whenever clarity is sought. Correctional services has been very transparent, and provides updates on the situation on the ground,” said Nxumalo.

He also took a swipe at the media, saying that there was a consistent bashing of the department by “certain voices aided by some media entities, thus creating an unfavourable image”.

He said the department’s approach was focused on prevention, containment, treatment and disaster recovery.

“The department activated infection prevention control (IPC) measures at all management areas with specific directives to ensure that personal protective equipment (PPE) is availed and has pushed for the sanitation of reception areas, cells, offices, vehicles and ablution facilities. There has been screening at our centres and supplies are being provided continuously, both for inmates and officials.

Where shortages are experienced, the department has a system in place to assist correctional centres in need of stock whilst awaiting delivery. Centres have a flexibility to share resources and we continue to engage with our officials and inmates,” he said.

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