Media Statement

POPCRU statement on the escape of Thabo Bester from the Mangaung Correctional Centre

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) has noted with shock emerging revelations relating to the escape of an inmate, Thabo Bester from the Mangaung Correctional Centre, which is contracted to G4S, a British multinational private security company on the 3rd of May 2022.

Following this incident, there has since been an internal investigation which had been closed, wherein the Security Supervisor at the time was dismissed on charges of negligence as opposed to the causal factor behind the fire in the cell, and his matter is currently being handled by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). Three other officials from the Emergency Security Team (EST) are currently under suspension.

It is only now that the matter is reopened on the basis of media reports surrounding the whereabouts of Thabo Bester, which demonstrates that indeed the management of the centre tried to brush the matter under the carpet.

This further raises questions as to whom the burnt body belongs, and how it found itself in Cell 35.

This brings to question the level of responsibility the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) takes in monitoring, and the functionality of controllers which it appoints to ensure that contractual obligations with these private prisons are not violated in line with the prescripts of the Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998.

The government spends almost R1 billion a year of taxpayers’ money on two private prisons which have around 5952 inmates incarcerated – one in Mangaung, Free State, the other in Makhado, Limpopo – owned and managed by local consortiums led by multinational British and US companies.

According to a report tabled in Parliament in October 2022, by way of contrast, the department of correctional services has a daily budget allowance of R385 to detain, clothe and feed prisoners. Costs are considerably steeper and more profitable at the privately run Mangaung Prison at R435 per person a day, and R412 at the Kutama-Sinthumule prison, which are run as a public-private partnership involving the security company G4S and GEO Group respectively.

We are of the firm view that this escape, including multiple other misconducts and abuses reported over the years are mainly a consequence of the DCS having outsourced the functions of the state’s security to foreign-owned companies whose sole preoccupation is profit maximisation as opposed to the core mandate of rehabilitating inmates.

These private companies have a disregard for human rights. Aside from the moral and ethical arguments about prison privatisation, there is ample operational evidence that the policy itself is flawed. The fact that the human rights dimension of private prisons has not been fully examined, is a dereliction of duty.

We are of the view that the provision of law and order is the key function of any government. This duty should not be delegated to the private sector, because it is motivated by profit. Money that could be allocated to services is creamed off in profits and fees for consultants and advisory schemes; the private sector becomes even more entrenched in criminal justice policy-making; and the fuse is lit on a financial time bomb. So far private prisons have failed to demonstrate that they are cost-effective, innovative, and have lower recidivism rates.

Any prison that is being built should contribute to crime prevention by rehabilitating prisoners and reducing repeat incarceration, and for this, we urge the DCS to immediately take over the two private prisons in the country and scrape their contracts as they extend to 2026 and 2027. This should also be accompanied by absorbing all personnel as fully fledged correctional officials.

Issued by POPCRU on 27/03/2023

For more information contact Richard Mamabolo on 066 135 4349