Fiery protest at Johannesburg's Sun City prison
Sentenced inmates at Johannesburg Central Prison‚ also known as Sun City‚ started fires in two sections of the correctional facility on Wednesday to vent their dissatisfaction over their conditions - including having to sleep on chipboard‚ toilets and in passages due to overcrowding.
Nkosinathi Mazibuko‚ a member of the Prison Management Committee at the centre‚ said the violence came after management failed to address their long list of grievances raised from last year.
Mazibuko said some inmates decided to take matters onto their own hands and set fires in parts of the prison just before 7am‚ forcing guards to shut down the entire centre to prevent further chaos.
"The situation is under control at Johannesburg Correctional. Two units of Medium were affected by fire started by offenders. No cases of serious injuries reported except for smoke inhalation. The management engaged offenders and addressed their demands. An investigation will be done and a case of arson has been opened with SAPS" said Gauteng Correctional Services department spokesman Singabakho Nxumalo.
Inmates burnt mattresses and other property belonging to the centre. Some sections of the centre remained closed for most of the morning‚ caused delays in serving them breakfast‚ he said.
Correctional Services spokesperson Manelisi Wolela confirmed that “a group of offenders started fires after unlocking this morning”.
This occurred in the “courtyard of the Medium B Correctional Centre”‚ he said.
He said the prisoners had set fires in dustbins.
“Officials reinforced and extinguished the fire‚ no injuries were sustained — although some are being inspected for possible smoke inhalation — no deaths‚ and no offender cell was damaged‚” Wolela said.
“Local management went to the scene‚ ensured the recounting of offenders‚ and will engage them to determine motives for this unacceptable incident.”
Mazibuko‚ outlining other prisoner grievances‚ cited backlogs in parole board hearings and overcrowding.
“We have big problems here. These range from sentenced inmates who are made to wear civilian clothes. There has always been a severe shortage of uniforms. Even new prisoners serve their sentences in the same clothes they came wearing‚” Mazibuko said.
He also said the prison hospital did not operate at night‚ leaving sick inmates without assistance.
Another inmate provided images showing adjacent bunk beds with a piece of chipboard placed across the top two beds to accommodate an extra prisoner.
He claimed the boards‚ which they were given by prison authorities‚ often broke‚ sending inmates flying onto the floor.
“Our cell is supposed to accommodate 40 but we are 56 inside.
"In another cell in the Medium section‚ there are over 100 inmates when the cell could actually accommodate 45 people.
"Others end up sleeping on corridors and about 16 sleep in the toilet‚” the inmate said.
Centres in Gauteng have been hit by various forms of protests recently. Inmates at the Krugersdorp Centre burnt prison property early last week. Among their demands were the speeding up of parole processes. At Pretoria's Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre‚ hundreds of inmates are currently embarking on a hunger strike demanding the intervention of the national Department of Correctional Services national commissioner Zach Modise.
- TMG Digital/SowetanLive