Wednesday, January 27, 2010

South African Correctional Services Minister Visits C-Max

PRETORIA 26 January 2010 Sapa


Awaiting trial inmates at Pretoria's C-Max prison stared at
Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula with a mix
of confusion and interest as she walked through the packed cells on

Greeting as many prisoners and officials as she could on her
brisk tour of the worn facility, Mapisa-Nqakula spent a few more
minutes chatting to those housed in the hospital section, and more
time in the psychiatric cells.

One man, speaking through the bars of his two-by-two metre cell,
told Mapisa-Nqakula and Deputy Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize he had been in the hospital since 2006.

"He would be better in a mental institution," Mkhize said,
indicating that care for the mentally disabled was not optimal in
regular prisons.

"This is what we are working with," Mapisa-Nqakula said in

Before leaving the cell, she asked the dazed-looking man if he
was not too hot in the tracksuit top he was wearing, but received
no response.

After the minister walked away the man returned to his bed where
he fidgeted, trying to put a woollen jersey over the layers he was
already wearing.

The temperature inside the non-airconditioned facility made the
small corridors muggy and uncomfortably hot. In larger corridors,
where the air circulated more freely, the smell of body odour and
human waste clashed with that of food and disinfectant.

A man, described by a prison guard as "mental", did not even
raise his head to look at the procession of government officials
and journalists. With only a mattress on the floor he sat
cross-legged and transfixed, reading his bible. Another man in only
underwear battled to reach through the bars of his cell to close
the outer steel door for some privacy to use the bathroom.

These outer doors are always kept open for observation purposes
and unlike the other cells, the toilets, without a proper seat,
face the corridor.

At the far end of the hallway, Mapisa-Nqakula and Mkhize looked
visibly upset to find a 16-year-old boy.

Wearing blue shorts and a T-shirt the gentle-looking boy said he
had been placed in Weskoppies psychiatric hospital by his mother.
He was moved to the Pretoria prison as Weskoppies no longer had any space for him.

Asked where his father was, he said he did not have one.

Mapisa-Nqakula also asked if he had been to school. After a
barely audible reply that he had, she said to no one in particular:
"So you had been to school... until you came here."

The boy, as it turned out, was extremely violent and facing
charges in court. Assessors had deemed him fit to stand trial, but
a guard told Sapa, shaking his head, he did not believe the
teenager was mentally capable.

Speaking over the constant sound of bars and doors being locked
and shackles being dragged, head of the awaiting trial prison Koos
Gerber said there were approximately 4300 inmates in his facility.

Walking through the corridors it was evident in some rooms that
the 40 beds in each of the normal cells accommodated more people

Some of them had been in the awaiting trial section for up to 15

Leaving the facility Mapisa-Nqakula walked back through the
corridors, past windows where the glass had been broken and
yellowing walls from which the plaster was flaking.

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