The fight between national Correctional Services head Arthur Fraser and the department’s KwaZulu-Natal regional commissioner, Mnikelwa Nxele, is threatening to bring Pietermaritzburg’s New Prison to its knees.
This is according to senior officials at the prison, who claim that systems at the facility were in disarray as managers supporting either Fraser or Nxele, who is currently on suspension, were operating in silos.
“From senior managers down to prison warders, morale is very low. There are also many instances where some subordinates refuse to take instructions from managers they perceive to be in a rival faction,” said a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The New Prison, which was also the department’s regional head office, this week made national headlines after one of its inmates was linked to an alleged plot to murder Western Cape Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath, who is embroiled in a dispute with Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe.
However, the source said there were far bigger problems at the prison.
“People are also being purged. Less than two weeks ago a deputy director was dismissed after people from national had claimed that there were irregularities during his appointment.
“However, they did not take any action against those who appointed him ... just because they are in the right camp,” he said.
Prisoners with links connected to the powerful Fraser faction, the manager said, were allowed to do as they please.
“They get driven around in the evening before being sneaked back into prison in the early hours of the morning. Even during level five lockdown, they were still able to access alcohol and cigarettes,” he said.
In the last few years, Nxele was placed on suspension several times and each time the suspension was lifted by courts he would be suspended again.
In August last year Fraser eventually fired Nxele, who had also been accused of corruption at the state capture commission, but the Labour Court reinstated him. When Nxele went back to work he was again suspended, with the department claiming that it was appealing the court ruling.
“As managers we know that the fights between the national commissioner and the regional commissioner have nothing to do with the need to ensure the smooth running of things in the region ... it’s all about controlling tenders,” the source said.
Due to the animosity between the two high-ranking officials, the source said, Fraser no longer trusts any of the managers who worked with Nxele.
“That is why the national commissioner brought a person from national to act as the regional commissioner.
“In other words, Fraser does not believe that any one of us senior managers in the region are fit to be appointed as acting regional commissioner,” he said.
In a letter to Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the senior officials claimed that the current KZN acting regional commissioner James Smallberger was illegally occupying the position as he had passed retirement age.
Smallberger, the senior managers said, was brought in as part of Fraser’s plan to micro-manage the region.
“For them the priority is to ensure that only people connected to national senior managers were allocated the most lucrative tenders. That is the only reason why they brought him here,” another manager said.
Mkhwebane has since requested the Public Service Commission to investigate the disgruntled managers’ claims.
While the national Correctional Services Department declined to comment on the managers’ grievances sent to Mkhwebane, it denied there was chaos in the New Prison and the region.
“These are the attempts that we have become familiar with by some individual(s) whose goals are to divert attention from the core delivery mandate.
“KwaZulu-Natal region continues to perform well in terms of the outcomes and we are satisfied with the state of affairs,’’ said department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo.
Smallberger, Nxumalo said, had achieved great results as KZN acting regional commissioner