Jail is no joke
But sometimes one wonders if clowns are running the circus in SA prisons
It’s unlikely anyone is deluded enough to think that prison is a fun place to be. Especially in a country where the jails are stuffed to overflowing with all manner of hardened, violent criminals.
Such as Mangaung Correctional Centre, from which Thabo Bester, South Africa’s now most notorious fugitive, absconded long before anyone thought to check if the charred corpse under his bed, was, in fact, his. Or even admit that it wasn’t.
The prison has been privately managed since it opened for suffering, sorry, business in 2001. It has room for just under 3,000 inmates.
An aerial picture in a presentation shows six gleaming-white cross-shaped prison blocks set inside a hexagonal perimeter. It could almost be a Lego fantasy hiding, of course, the hell within.
The same presentation contains comments from then corrections minister Ngconde Balfour, who said: “You have proven that rehabilitation of offenders is not a dream” and that the management was “going well beyond expectations and the inmates are the main beneficiaries of this approach”.
This would be the same prison that the department of correctional services temporarily took over in 2013 from manager G4S — no stranger to controversy — and Bloemfontein Correctional Contracts, after managers allegedly “lost control” of the jail.
It is also where five of the 19 inmates who died between January 2021 and October 2022 “suffered unnatural deaths”, according to the leaked prison report by Free State High Court judges Nokuthula Daniso and Ilse van Rhyn.
So much for benefiting from rehabilitation.
Bester’s outrageous escape is a reminder that prisons run for profit are probably no better at keeping dangerous criminals locked up than the average state-run pandemonium.
Expect another investigation, followed by a flurry of nonresignations, while Bester cackles at us all.
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