Eastern Cape inmates play soccer as Covid-19 numbers leap

Inmates play soccer at Mdantsane prison amid coronavirus crisis.
Inmates play soccer at Mdantsane prison amid coronavirus crisis.

Barely 24 hours after correctional services minister Ronald Lamola announced there were 26 coronavirus cases at the East London Correctional Centre in West Bank, inmates at Mdantsane prison were playing soccer, cheered on by hundreds of their fellow prisoners.

Two videos have emerged of inmates kicking a ball in the prison yard, completely disregarding the call for physical distancing.  

The videos, leaked to the DispatchLIVE, show the scene inside the Mdantsane prison on Monday.

On Tuesday, the department of correctional services said 49 more people had tested positive for the coronavirus at the West Bank facility, whose management team also oversees Mdantsane prison.

In total, there are now 174 positive Covid-19 cases in the Eastern Cape — a significant leap from the 104 cases announced by health minister Zweli Mkhize on Monday.

There have been two fatalities in the province, both in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba said a 77-year-old man had died before the first death was announced in the Eastern Cape — a  66-year-old North End woman who  died on Thursday last week.   

“The 77-year-old was admitted to Livingstone Hospital but he had a lot of underlying issues such as diabetes and renal failure.

“He wasn’t admitted to hospital because of Covid-19, which was why there wasn’t an announcement,” Gomba said.

The Mdantsane prison videos prompted an immediate response from the correctional services department.

Department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said: “The area commissioner and the head of centre are checking the videos because we need to verify whether it’s in Mdantsane and the time when these videos were captured.

“That will be easy to do because the officials know the inmates.

“They will be able to recognise them and possibly when this soccer match was taking place.”

An inmate told the DispatchLIVE the prisoners were at risk because of the “ignorance” of prison officials.

“We are ones who will be at risk here. If this Covid-19 can break out here in Mdantsane, we will all be at risk.

“We are literally going to die here. There are life-serving inmates who have served their time who are supposed to go home.

“They should be released to ease space,” the prisoner said.

Another inmate, who admitted he was one of those  cheering at the soccer match on Monday, said the prisoners’ health appeared to be of no concern to the officials.

 “There’s no care. They [officials] are saying we need to be preoccupied by something else instead of sitting inside doing nothing.

“They allow us to play football. This is deadly and dangerous,” he said.

But a prison official who is not authorised to speak to the media said they did not know what to do.

“We are lost as officials. With what is happening in South America, where inmates are protesting to be released, we have to allow the inmates to play to take their minds off the Covid-19 virus.

“They must enjoy the game, go to sleep tired,” the official said.

On Sunday, Lamola said his department had implemented a comprehensive approach to prevent the transmission and spread of Covid-19 in its facilities and offices.

“We have regularly given updates that contextualise our Covid-19 approach which is focused on prevention, containment, treatment and recovery.

“All our efforts mirror our caring nature as we work towards ensuring the wellbeing of offenders and officials,” Lamola said.

But on Tuesday Nxumalo said there were 49 new confirmed coronavirus cases at the East London correctional facility.

Fifty-three  inmates and 25 officials have now tested positive at the facility.

Another official has tested positive at St Albans prison in Port Elizabeth.  

“As the number of infected people increases in correctional services, the containment and treatment pillar of the disaster management response strategy of the department has been activated.

“Healthcare teams are on site, armed with appropriate personal protective equipment, which includes goggles, gloves, masks and gowns, rendering care services to distressed cases and monitoring those likely to develop acute respiratory challenges,” Nxumalo said.

He said disinfection of the environment at East London Correctional Centre was under way.

“This is to prevent contamination of surfaces and inanimate objects.”

The Eastern Cape has a total of 20,559 incarcerated offenders.

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