G4S abuses in South African prison still ignored


“On 17 December 2013, former inmate Tebogo Meje was called to the office of the unit manager in Mangaung prison, a South African jail run by British security behemoth G4S. There, members of the Emergency Security Team (EST)–a team of warders also known as the ‘ninjas’, armed with electrically charged shields and other non-lethal weapons–interrogated Meje. They asked him about the home-made weapons that were surfacing in the prison. Meje was not a member of the notorious prison gangs, who regularly stab each other and warders with weapons fabricated from shards of shattered toilet pots; on the contrary, he wasn’t even supposed to be in jail. One and a half years after the incident, the High Court acquitted him on appeal and he is now a free man again.

When Meje told the Ninjas he knew nothing of the knives, they didn’t let him go. “They made me lie on my stomach, stripped me of my shirt, poured water on me and then electroshocked me and kicked me,” Meje told the Wits Justice Project. “I had a swollen mouth, a swollen elbow and my skin was discoloured from the shocks,” he said.”

Senior Journalist at the Wits Justice Project, Ruth Hopkins, writes about the persistent level of impunity for gross human rights violation at the privately-run Mangaung prison in the Free State. In October 2013, G4S – the biggest security provider in the world – lost control of the prison, amid violent riots and stabbings, and strikes by prison officers. In August 2014, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) handed the prison back to G4S. Although then Minister of Correctional Services, Sbu Ndebele, promised to “leave no stone unturned” into the investigation of human rights violations at the prison, there is still no report made available – one and a half years later. The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS), the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), and the South African Police Services (SAPS) have also not addressed allegations of human rights abuses in the prison.

To read more and find out about an attempt taken to hold G4S accountable, click here. Also read the article as it appeared in the Daily Maverick, here

Listen to Hopkins and Meje shed light on the cruel practice of solitary confinement and human rights abuses at Mangaung prison.

Ten facts about SA’s watch-dog – Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).


  1. The IPID Act was signed into law on 12 May 2011. IPID is an independent organisation that reports to the Minister of Police and functions independently of the SA Police Service (SAPS)
  2. The Act empowers IPID to investigate serious criminal offences by SAPS and Municipal Police Service (MPS) members – including all deaths in police custody or as a result of police action, criminal offences and acts of serious misconduct allegedly committed by SAPS and MPS members.
  3. The Directorate is obliged to investigate matters such as complaints relating to the discharge of an official firearm by a police officer; rape by a police officer, whether the police officer is on or off duty; rape of any person in police custody and any complaint of torture or assault against a police officer in the execution of his, or her, duties. It is also mandated to investigate police–related corruption.
  4. IPID was established on 1 April 2012, in terms of Section 206(6) of the Constitution of the Republic of SA which provided for the establishment of an independent police complaints body. IPID replaced the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) and is empowered to focus on serious criminal investigations as opposed to mostly service –related matters investigated by its predecessor.
  5. IPID’s mission is to be “an effective independent and impartial investigating and over-sight body that is committed to justice and acting in the public interest while meeting the highest standards of integrity and excellence.”
  6. For the entire 2013/2014 reporting period, the IPID had no permanent head and nine provincial head posts were vacant. As a result, there were inconsistencies in performance, with some provinces meeting their performance target and others failing to do so.
  7. IPID received 5 745 complaints during the 2013/2014 reporting period. Of these, 3 916 were assault cases, 429 were complaints relating to the discharge of official firearms, 390 were incidents of deaths resulting from  police action, 374 related to other criminal matters and 234 were incidents of deaths in police custody.
  8. SAPS adopted an anti-torture policy in 2009 and in 2011 IPID was given an express mandate to investigate all allegations of torture by the police, according to the Association for the Prevention of Torture.

Most brutal police stations

9. The Prevention and Combating of Torture Bill was signed into law by President Jacob Zuma in July 2013.According to IPID 2013/2014 annual report, to date no police officer has been prosecuted for torture by the National Prosecuting Authority.

10. More than 17 000 cases of deaths, rapes, assaults and torture were reported to IPID between 2004 and 2014 countrywide – an average of 1 770 a year, or close to five incidents a day. According to City Press’ Athandiwe Saba (Brutality… just another day on the job) records dating back to 2004 were incomplete and case numbers, incident dates, names of police stations and complainants’ details often unrecorded.

Death in custody

Want to learn more about police brutality and misconduct?

The full IPID 2012/2013 report can be read here

The full IPID 2013/2014 report can be read here

An insightful piece on unlawful arrests and police misconduct, written by WJP senior journalist, Ruth Hopkins, can be read here

Also read South African police accused of routinely torturing crime suspects by WJP senior journalist, Carolyn Raphaely.

Listen to Wits Justice Show radio podcasts on Police Brutality and What can the police do to you during an arrest?



A roundup of criminal justice news in South Africa and the United States


Airmail via Drones Is Vexing for Prisons

A drone was used to smuggle contraband into Lee Correctional Institute, in Bishopville, South Carolina, the New York Times reported.

“Drones flying over prison walls may not be the chief concern of corrections officials. But they say that some would-be smugglers are experimenting with the technique as an alternative to established methods like paying off officers, hiding contraband in incoming laundry and throwing packages disguised as rocks over fences into recreational yards …

In January, guards found a drone with blue and red flashing lights on the ground inside a recreational yard at a prison in Bennettsville, S.C., according to investigative reports. On that drone were 55 grams of synthetic marijuana and a cellphone charger, the reports said.”

Brutality… just another day on the job

According to City Press, if you spend time in a police cell anywhere in the country – but especially in the Western Cape – you will probably be tortured, assaulted, raped, or even killed.

IPID records detailing deaths, rapes, assaults and tortures that took place in police custody between 2004 and 2014, obtained through a City Press PAIA request, indicated more than 17 000 cases reported nationwide.

“The records revealed that, of the 17 694 cases reported to Ipid, just more than one in five (3 644) were laid against police in the Western Cape. Gauteng police came in second, with 2 848 complaints against them, followed by officers in the Free State, with just more than 2 125 cases.”

Restraint of Pregnant Inmates Is Said to Persist in New York Despite Ban

Tina Tinen was doing a year for selling drugs, and had arrived in prison halfway through her pregnancy. On her due date in November 2011, she went into labor so rapidly that guards called for an ambulance to take her to the hospital from the women’s prison in Bedford Hills.

“Earth-stopping pain,” she said. “The ambulance arrived. I was handcuffed to the gurney.”

At the hospital, she said, she remained cuffed to the gurney as the contractions accelerated. “It was about one minute apart, just blinding pain,” she said. “I remember the clock on the wall of the room. I would see the minute hand, the second hand, and the hand would barely go around the clock and I would be screaming: ‘No! No! No!’ ”

Restraint of pregnant inmates is persistent although in 2009 the State Legislature passed a bill – signed into law by Gov. David A. Paterson – banning the shackling of pregnant women just before, during or after childbirth.

In a survey conducted by Correctional Association of New York (CA) since the ban became law, 23 of 27 pregnant women interviewed reported being restrained at least once in violation of the Anti-Shackling Law. The report was issued in February.

One of the women recounted her experience to CA:

“My ankles were shackled during the whole trip to the hospital when I was in labor. They pushed me in a wheelchair from the van to the hospital and at one point the wheelchair almost tipped over. I would not have been able to catch myself very well. . . . I was shackled until I got to the delivery room, but even then they kept one of my ankles shackled to the bed. [They] only took it off when it was time to start pushing. . . . I couldn’t rotate the way I needed to and I had to sit in one spot the whole time I was in labor. The baby was pushing and I was going through contractions and I wanted to lie on my side but I couldn’t because I couldn’t move my leg.” (p. 137)

Mental illness alarming in [South African] prisons

According to Police and Prison Civil Rights Union (Popcru), prison warders are unable to differentiate between a naturally violent inmate and a mentally ill inmate due to lack of training.

“In February, 3 755 inmates were recorded as being mentally ill out of a population of almost 150 000. Twenty one inmates committed suicide in 2013/14, according to the Correctional Service Department’s 2013/14 annual report, an increase from 13 in the previous financial year.” DCS acknowledged that the mental health needs of awaiting trial detainees – which constitute some 28% of the prison population – are unknown.

[In the United States] Most Prisoners Are Mentally Ill

More than half of inmates in jails and state prisons have a mental illness of some sort, according to an Urban Institute report, with depression the most common problem followed by bipolar disorder.

The numbers are even starker when analysed by gender: 55 percent of male inmates in state prisons are mentally ill, compared to 73 percent of female inmates.

“An increasingly popular program might help thin the ranks of these sick, untreated inmates. What are known as “mental-health courts” have sprung up in a number of states as an alternative to incarceration. A shoplifter who has, say, schizophrenia might be screened and found eligible for mental-health court, and then be sentenced to judicially supervised treatment. These types of courts have expanded rapidly since 2000, and there are now hundreds around the country.”

Prison hunger strike over uniforms, bedding, family visits

Sentenced inmates at Johannesburg Correctional Centre (Sun City) Medium B embarked on a hunger strike last Wednesday demanding that the head of the prison Samuel Mahlanga resign, the Wits Justice Project (WJP) reported in The Saturday Star. Inmates said they were protesting Mahlanga’s denial of their privileges, as well as their conditions of confinement. They said that the hunger strike ended late Thursday afternoon when some inmates were intimidated by the Emergency Security Team and transferred to other prisons.

Four inmates told WJP that a petition was handed to Sun City management listing the inmates grievances and demands a week prior to the hunger strike. When management failed to return with a satisfactory response to the petition, the inmates went on hunger strike.

The prisoners’ main grievances related to dangerous conditions at Sun City. For example, they claimed a lack of healthcare professionals in the unit where inmates with infectious diseases are housed. “Inmates are being cared for by fellow inmates because there are no nurses,” said Thabong, whose name was not provided to protect his identity.

The WJP was told by inmates that family visits were limited to only 10 minutes, no cleaning supplies were provided, and some sentenced inmates lacked suitable bedding and uniforms.

The inmates said that prison management has offered to meet with them on May 9th, but they remain sceptical that their demands will be met.

Read full article here

Petition handed to management by Sun City Medium B inmates.

                                        Petition handed to management by Sun City Medium B inmates.

Petition handed to management by Sun City Medium B inmates.

                                   Petition handed to management by Sun City Medium B inmates.


Congratulations to WJP Radio Journalist, Paul McNally, for scooping 3 awards at the 2015 MTN Radio Awards

Paul McNally, Radio Journalist

Paul McNally, Radio Journalist

Paul McNally scored a hat-trick at the 6th annual MTN Radio Awards, held at the Sandton Convention Centre on April 18 2015. McNally’s big win came a few days after being awarded gold at the Making All Voices Count 2015 Global Innovation Competition in Jakarta.

Here are the 2015 MTN Radio Awards winning categories:

  • News and Actuality Presenter – Community and Campus
  • Best News and Actuality Show – The Science Inside
  • Best Radio Documentary:  The Story of Farouk Meyer and Oscar Pistorius (Listen to the award winning piece here)

A huge congratulations to McNally!!

Get the full list of this year’s winners, here.




Wits Justice Project wins Gold in Jakarta

Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi and Paul McNally

Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, project coordinator at the Wits Justice Project and Paul McNally, Radio Journalist










The Wits Justice Project wins gold at the Making All Voices Count 2015 Global Innovation Competition. Out of 241 global ideas, Paul McNally’s Citizen Justice Network was one of five finalists who won gold.

The Citizen Justice Network project aims to activate marginalized communities to fight miscarriages of justice. It will train eight community activists across the country in basic journalism and the use of technology. Activists will be sourced from rural areas where platforms for reporting on stories of miscarriages of justice in the criminal justice system are minimal. The project will enrich community radio and online media. It will provide local activists with an opportunity to expose stories not necessarily covered by mainstream journalists, bridging the gap between community and mainstream media. Watch McNally talk more about the project here.



Thank you for all the support. Thank you for helping us ensure the voices of the voiceless count!

Read more on what’s to follow here.


Submission to the Portfolio Committee on Justice & Correctional Services Department of Justice & Correctional Services’ Budget 2015-2016

DJF logo

10 April 2015

1. This submission on the Department of Justice & Correctional Services 2015-2016 budget is from the Detention Justice Forum (DJF), a civil society coalition that works to protect the rights and well-being of prisoners and others in detention in South Africa.

2. The DJF is gravely concerned with the wasteful defence of civil claims against the Department and the high amount of contingent liabilities that continue to be projected by the Department. As recorded in the 2013-2014 Annual Report, the Department reported R984, 317, 000 in contingent liabilities. There is no information publicly available on what portion of these contingent liabilities will result in payment to the State Attorney for legal expenses incurred in defending civil claims for damages by current and former inmates. However, we assert that the Department often defends in court claims that it should rather settle out of court, thereby wasting limited public money that could be better spent protecting the public and addressing the conditions that led to the claims in the first place.

3. The 2012 case of Lee v Minister of Correctional Services is a useful example. In this case, the Constitutional Court held the Department’s wrongful acts and omissions caused Mr Lee to become infected with and develop active tuberculosis (TB). The Department was ordered to pay R270 000 in damages to Mr Lee. In addition, the Department was ordered to pay the legal costs for Mr Lee’s representatives at Jonathan Cohen & Associates, which totalled R2 074 646.74 and also included the costs of counsel in three different courts. Further, the Department will have incurred its own expenses in defending this case, the total amount of which we do not know, and would also have included the costs of counsel in three different courts.

4. Three other ex-inmates are also suing the Department for damages for developing TB in prison. Two of the three, Zaid Seedat and Glen Spencer, are represented by Jonathan Cohen & Associates. In 2009, the State attorney CJ Benkenstein who was representing the Department in Lee v Minister of Correctional Services, wrote to Mr Cohen asking him to remove Mr Seedat and Mr Spencer’s matters from the roll, stating, “If you are successful in the Lee matter…the other two matters may be settled.” The Department has reneged on this commitment and is now aggressively, and we submit fruitlessly, defending against the claims.

5. Not only is the Department wastefully defending these claims with virtually identical facts as those in the Lee case, it is doing so by repeating its arguments, particularly as to factual causation, that failed in that case.

6. Instead of wastefully defending against the claims by Mr Seedat and others similarly situated, we assert that the Department should use its resources to mitigate against the spread of TB behind bars. It can do so, inter alia, by ensuring that it complies with its own Standing Orders around cell occupancy rates and reducing overcrowding in its facilities. Studies indicate that these measures alone would decrease the spread of TB by 30%. The Department can also ensure that there are clear ventilation guidelines that are developed and adhered to. It can also mitigate risks by respecting inmates’ constitutional rights to exercise, nutrition, and adequate healthcare.

7. We acknowledge the National Task Team for TB and HIV in Correctional Services is working to improve the Department’s performance on these infectious diseases, but assert that the Department must invest more in strategies that ensure its respect for inmates’ human rights as a strategy to stem the spread of TB, as well as to reduce its own risk of continuing to be sued for damages in similar cases.

8. In light of the above, we recommend the following:

8.1. The Department should stop its wasteful expenditure trying once again to defend against claims for damages in matters that have already been dealt with by the courts.

8.2. The Department should re-direct resources to ensuring it complies with constitutional standards, laws, policies, and its own standing orders, that, if adhered to, would decrease the spread of TB in prisons.

Signed, The Detention Justice Forum

Endorsed by:


2. Wits Justice Project

3. Sonke Gender Justice

4. Egon Oswald & Associates

5. Jonathan Cohen & Associates

6. Just Detention International – South Africa

7. Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative

8. Lawyers for Human Rights


1. Emily Keehn, Sonke Gender Justice, emily@genderjustice.org.za

2. Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, Wits Justice Project, nooshin.erfani-ghadimi@wits.ac.za

3. John Stephens, SECTION27, stephens@section27.org.za

4. Sasha Gear, Just Detention International – South Africa, sgear@justdetention.org.za


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