Inside EWN Roundtable: The state of South African prisons

A panel discussion about the state of the Department of Correctional Services and prisons in South Africa and what locals need to know about privately-run prisons in the country.

Mangaung Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein. Picture: G4S website

JOHANNESBURG - The escape of convicted rapist and murderer, Thabo Bester, has put South African prisons under the spotlight.

Bester escaped from the Mangaung prison, which is a privately-run maximum-security facility, in May 2022.

The authorities initially believed that he had died in a fire in his cell but announced recently that the body found in the cell was not his.

The Department of Correctional Services has taken a knock since the Bester’s escaped as the news has revealed the dire state of South African prisons and the loopholes within the privately-run prisons.

During an Inside EWN roundtable discussion, Department of Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo explained the need for government to start outsourcing the running of prisons.

“The country was experiencing extreme levels of overcrowding, just after the democratic elections and the department approached government as they needed money to build new institutions. Due to a lack of funds, the solution was then to bring the private sector to alleviate the burden. And thus, Mangaung prison in Bloemfontein and Kutama Sinthumele in Limpopo.”

Nxumalo also explained that a 25-year contract was given to G4S to run the Mangaung Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein, which is expected to end in 2026.

The second 25-year contract for Kutama Sinthumule Correctional Centre in Limpopo, was awarded to American company, GEO Group and will end in 2027.

However, there have been many calls to end the contract with G4S as the Thabo Bester escape was not the first to reveal the failures under G4S at the Mangaung prison.

Investigative journalist and author, Ruth Hopkins, who was also part of the discussion, said that the change in leadership implemented by the state was meaningless.

“DCS is saying they have a contract to honour with G4S but they also need to honour the contract with the human rights of inmates. I have evidence proving that prisoners have been tortured and violated under G4S.”

Hopkins also added that the department had known long ago that Bester had escaped prison but had been sitting on it for a year. But Nxumalo said that in May, when the report of the fire came up, they started their own investigations, which did not at the time indicate an escape.

Listen to the full conversation below: