By Sisho Magagula | 2018-01-07
Following widespread allegations of brutality on inmates by warders in facilities of His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS), Commissioner General Isaiah Mzuthini Ntshangase has broken his silence.
In an interview with the Sunday Observer yesterday, Ntshangase said he first wanted to clarify that his department respects the fundamental human rights of all persons, including inmates. He said all officers working for the department are taught that all human beings have rights in terms of the national constitution and international.
“No officer within His Majesty’s Correctional Services has the right to assault an inmate. This is the gospel that I always preach and all officers know this. We do not condone violence of any form within our department. We respect all offenders who are under our care and it is for this reason that we don’t even call them prisoners. We abolished that name because we felt it was offensive and violated the dignity of the inmates. We call them inmates, offenders, or tivakashi teNgwenyama in vernacular because we believe they are in here for a short while and will return to their communities when they finish their sentences,” he said.
Ntshangase said he was equally appalled by the increasing reports of brutality and violence within HMCS facilities.
This follows press reports on about 60 recruits from HMCS Staff College who were unleashed on rioting inmates at Sidwashini on December 23, last year after the inmates had boycotted sour porridge. According to reports, the inmates were supposed to have bread with tea on this day for breakfast but ended up being served sour porridge because bread had not been delivered by the bakery department of HMCS in Matsapha.
The intervention of the recruits was solicited after the officers stationed at Sidwashini failed to contain the angry and rioting inmates.
Also, a few weeks ago, warders and inmates were involved in a scuffle at Bhalekane. One of the inmates has even turned to the courts, asking to be transferred to another facility because he fears for his life at Bhalekane. He claims he was bashed by warders during the scuffle. The matter is pending at the High Court.
During his explanation, the Commissioner General said he had spoken to his officers against this act on several occasions.
“We have rules and internal policies around here and they all state that we don’t assault inmates. We are guarded by these rules and international instruments such as the ‘Mandela Rules’. There are, however, certain exceptional cases where the officers have to exercise discretion in extreme cases when the situation threatens to get out of control. In such exceptional cases, an officer may apply minimum force on an inmate who fails to adhere to a lawful order. Even then, minimum force should be applied with the authority of a senior officer. You don’t just apply minimum force willy-nilly,” he said.
Ntshangase said there were human rights officers within the facilities who ensured that such occurrences do not take place.
“All officers with the rank of superintendent also serve as human rights officers. Among their duties is to ensure that such things never happen. Inmates are free to report violation of their fundamental rights to these officers. We also have chaplains, psychologists and social welfare officers who all well equipped to handle such cases,” he said.
Inmates attack warder, rushed to hospital
An officer of His Majesty’s Correctional Services had to be rushed to hospital after he was attacked by violent inmates at Bhalekane correctional facility.
According to Commissioner General Isaiah Mzuthini Ntshangase, the incident took place a few days ago when the inmates suddenly rioted at the facility based near Madlangampisi in the Hhohho region.
The officer, only identified as Shongwe, was reportedly trying to serve breakfast to the inmates when they kicked the tray down and assaulted him with an enamel dish on the head. “The officer was severely injured and had to be taken to hospital. All this is part of the unlawful activities that the gang members are currently engaging in. One wonders why this officer was assaulted because he had not even provoked the inmates; he was innocently serving them breakfast and they pounced on him,” he said. The Commissioner General said his investigations had also uncovered that the gang members vandalise property such as beds within the facilities in order to make hand-made weapons to attack the officers. “Government property is being deliberately broken to attack innocent officers. All these are new activities we have never seen before. They have been brought in by the copycats I mentioned,” he said.
‘Gangs are to blame’
HMCS Commissioner General Isiah Mzuthini Ntshangase has conceded to the existence of gangs within the cells of his department facilities.
This is a phenomenon mainly common in prisons in other countries such as neighbouring South Africa and Ntshangase has admitted that the trend has permeated into local correctional facilities.
Mzuthini labelled the gangs as ‘rotten potatoes and copy-cats’ who were trying to destabilise local prisons.
He said, the country’s prisons were peaceful until the arrival of a few ‘rotten potatoes’ who call themselves the 26s, 27, and 28s gang members.
“After reading the media reports about violence within our facilities, I decided to conduct my own investigations. I then discovered that we now have rotten potatoes in our midst and they are the ones who are perpetrating the violence. They have formed gangs within the facilities. This is something they copied from prisons outside the country and they have brought this bad habit here” he said.
Ntshangase said his department would make sure that the culture of gangs within cells is nipped in the bud because it promotes violence.
“We will fight this bad habit using all lawful means at our disposal. We cannot be held ransom by copycats trying to bring outside elements here,” he said.
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