Dangerous and on the run

Thirteen Mdantsane prison warders are facing a disciplinary hearing after the daring MacGyver-style escape of four of the Eastern Cape’s most vicious prisoners yesterday morning.

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If authorities are to believed, in less than 60 minutes the four murderers, rapists and robbers unscrewed two prison doors, clambered like Spider-men up and down across prison courtyards built with 3m-high blank walls, made their way down the building walls, slipped undetected through two barbed wire-topped fences, and were gone.

The central security fence is five to 10 metres high, and is supposed, on touch, to “electrocute” a person, said provincial Correctional Services commissioner Nkosinathi Breakfast.

But no bodies or burned prisoners were found.

Four orange jumpsuits lay on the ground.

The four – Lihle Zikholisile, 19, from Mthatha, Norman Mukunuwendo, 22, from Zimbabwe, Phikolomzi Sonakele, 23, from Mqanduli and Sandile Vena, 22, from King William’s Town – seamlessly escaped without trace.

Breakfast said the prison warders broke three rules when they:

  • Served dangerous criminals their breakfast in the passage instead of in their cells;
  • Allowed them to eat without supervision; and
  • Failed to check if the doors of the unit were still screwed on.

The four were part of a group of 18 prisoners left in the passage of the facility’s Unit D to have breakfast.

The commissioner said last night: “The other 14 chose to stay behind, otherwise they could have escaped – there was no one to stop them.”

Breakfast said the four were noticed missing at 7.20am, less than an hour after they were released for breakfast.

He said Unit D houses 27 juvenile prisoners who all had pending court cases. The other nine were locked inside their cells.

Breakfast said: “This was a case of negligence from the officials’ side. It will not go unpunished. Disciplinary action will be taken. Investigation continues.”

Provincial Correctional Services spokeswoman Vuyolwethu Ngadu released the four criminal records.

  • Zikholisile is serving a 35-year jail sentence for murder, two rapes, robbery and housebreaking. He has a pending court case in February for a robbery with aggravating circumstances in Mthatha. Zikholisile stays at Mandela Park in Mthatha;
  • Mukunuwendo is serving a 15-year sentence for robbery with aggravating circumstances and possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. He also has a pending court case in February for robbery with aggravating circumstances. He was arrested in Uitenhage.
  • Sonakele is serving a 12-year sentence for robbery with aggravating circumstances. He was due to appear at Mqanduli Magistrate’s Court on Valentines’ Day, February 14 to answer to a rape charge. He is from Mqanduli; and
  • Vena is serving a 23-year sentence for rape, robbery and kidnapping. He also had a pending court appearance for robbery with aggravating circumstances on April 18.

Breakfast said the four had cooked up a well-organised plan over a long time.

“It is not possible that they just unscrewed two doors and escaped within an hour.

“They surely started loosening the screws a while back.”

“When the guards left them in the passage unsupervised they used the opportunity and removed the unscrewed gate to the court yard.”

Once the gang was outside in the courtyard, they removed an unscrewed door and proceeded into a narrow passage.

“They then climbed a wall which is 3m high to the top of the prison roof. They used water and drain pipes.

“We don’t know how they went past the fence because it is not damaged.”

Breakfast said there were 1000 prisoners in Mdantsane prison who were guarded by 134 warders.

Last night cells 1, 5, 7 and 9 were each less one prisoner.

Breakfast said due to overcrowding, Unit D, which is designed for single cells has been converted into communal cells housing two to three inmates.

“The grill doors are supposed to be checked every day and night every time a new shift comes in and they are supposed to give a structural integrity report. That was not done.”

Breakfast said it was also discovered this morning that the sensor on the perimeter fence was not functioning. — malibongwed@dispatch.co.za


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