Seven guards looking after 766 inmates at Mdantsane medium prison stopped working yesterday over fears for their safety.
The guards, all members of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) at the facility’s section A, complained to their organisation that they were outnumbered by prisoners who were deemed dangerous, said Popcru Eastern Cape secretary Zamikhaya Skade.
The guards are demanding danger pay, he said.
Skade said that the guards’ protest action had created chaos at the facility, forcing prison authorities to suspend all special programmes and direct all available manpower to Section A.
Sections that had to be closed included the education centre, rehabilitation centre, and sport and wellness centre.
Skade said there were 1462 prisoners at the Mdantsane jail being guarded by 25 warders per shift, a situation which, according to Popcru, is a safety hazard to its members.
He told the Dispatch that the guards were “subjected to highly dangerous working conditions with no special danger allowance”.
“Because the prison is a medium facility, our members are not entitled to special danger allowances like prison guards at maximum facilities.
“Yet there are dangerous prisoners in Mdantsane prison as well. The situation should not be like this.”
Skade said the union had made several fruitless attempts to get the Eastern Cape department of correctional services to rectify the situation.
“We have been asking them to transfer all dangerous prisoners to the East London maximum prison or pay up the allowance.”
Skade explained that prisoners were classified as dangerous based on the seriousness and nature of the crimes committed and length of sentence. He said the prison kept more than 500 prisoners at its C and F sections.
Popcru’s complaints per section were:
lSection B (the kitchen) had 29 prisoners cooking and cleaning who were guarded by only two warders;
lSection C, the maximum facility, had 281 dangerous prisoners guarded by only four warders;
lSection D housed 132 convicts facing further charges guarded by six warders.
When any of these prisoners had to appear in court, four guards had to escort them, leaving two behind.
This is the section where four prisoners escaped in January at 7.20am after they were given breakfast and left alone in the passage, staging a brazen escape through prison doors, up and down high walls and over three fences.
lSection E (the hospital) housed 22 prisoner patients looked after by two guards; and
lSection F is for 232 juvenile prisoners who are classified as medium to dangerous inmates. They are guarded by four warders.
A crisis meeting between Popcru and the prison authorities, led by Mdantsane prison area commissioner Mamokete Mokgorosi, was held yesterday.
Eastern Cape department of correctional services commissioner Nkosinathi Breakfast declined to be drawn into discussing the outcomes of the meeting.
“I can confirm that the area commissioner was at the facility after she was requested to a meeting by the workers.
“I can’t confirm the purpose of the meeting at this stage until she reports back to me.”
Last night, Breakfast said: “We are still studying this matter and will comment once we have verified some of the things brought forward by Popcru.” — firstname.lastname@example.org