Open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa


By: St Albans Correctional Centre Inmates

We are calling President Ramaphosa to give us answers regarding our safety as St Albans Correctional Centre inmates who are serving sentences during the COVID-19 pandemic. The constitution of our country clearly states that as prisoners, we have the right to safe custody, shelter, food and healthcare. As St Albans prisoners we have a problem with the poor water systems. During the lockdown we found ourselves without water for three days whereas although Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has consistently emphasised that we must wash our hands regularly to prevent the virus.

Minister Mkhize was quoted saying that the department has provided all necessary equipment for the staff and the inmates at the country’s correctional facilities. This is not true. At St Albans we only see sanitizers on TV. Gloves and masks are for prison officials only. We inmates are the most vulnerable society. This was evident when the media was able to enter East London prison without being spotted and left without being sanitized as proclaimed by the minister in the media. Prison officials are paid danger allowance for COVID 19. On the other hand, we have warders who have been deployed here in Medium B since 1 September 2019 after the murder of inmate Xolani Tyatya by prison officials.

Prison officials are spending money for their personal use- money that is allocated for gloves, masks and sanitizers for inmates. Furthermore, in March 2020, an inmate who was in the awaiting trial section, was killed by the members. The question is: what is the use of having prison warders while inmates continue to stab members and in return the warders are taking the law into their own hands by killing these inmates? Why are these warders not held responsible and charged for these murders? Instead, they go around working as if nothing has happened.

On 26 December 2016, three inmates were killed by warders at the Maximum section. What action was taken against those officials? As we speak there are rumours that there are two members at St Albans who are infected with Coronavirus. We are scared as inmates. Outside prison, there are lockdown regulations whereas inside here, it’s business as usual. Inmates are attending school while others go out to work as normal with high chances of coming back infected with Coronavirus. Social distancing is impossible here because each cell houses more than 40 inmates sharing one toilet and shower.

During meals, it is bumper to bumper to collect food. There are inmates who are due to be released but the pace of the Department of Correctional Services to sign profiles is too slow. Inmates are dying like flies and the worst part is that some inmates die while waiting for their release dates. Inmates are being given further profiles of two years for errors that were supposed to be spotted by the prison management and regional office. There are inmates who have been in prison since 1998 who have been waiting for the minister to release them. They were failed by the system.

Non-lifers also suffer under prison manager, one Mr Bence who is racist and has sabotaged inmates from being released. With some white inmates, if the Department of Correctional Services has made a mistake, Mr Bence would call the minister’s office directly. But he does not go this extra mile for black inmates who have to wait for more than three years. Mr President, you gave amnesty a few months ago but half of those inmates have offended again. The chances of inmates who have been in prison for more than 15 years to re-offend are very limited. During this pandemic many countries are releasing inmates, what about us? We are human beings with children on the outside. Please let us go and die in the presence of our families than to die in prison due to COVID-19. We have been praying that this virus must not get to our prisons because we all know the disaster that can be caused by it.

Right now this virus has entered our country in various ways where people did not know that they had the virus. Inmates are locked up in prison but end up infected by the mistake or negligence of prison officials. This is not fair. The minister is sitting with a pile of profiles of inmates who were given further profiles as far back as 2017. Some were considered by the department last year but are waiting for the minister to sign these profiles until today. The department is struggling to allocate victims for Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD) and they end up giving inmates further profiles. Some inmates are forced to plead guilty on VOD, when failing to do so they are asked to do the psychotherapy program.

Lifers who were released during the time of minister Charles Nqakula were never asked to do these programs. It’s amazing what criterion is being used to release lifers because they are being asked to go through the program again even though they have done it before. We are getting old in prison from all the waiting. Now we are going to be victims of the Coronavirus. Please have mercy on us Mr President.