Several security breaches and the alleged involvement of at least one official may have led to an inmate killing a female warder and raping another at the Goedemoed Prison in the Free State earlier this year, according to the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS).
The JICS compiled a report with findings, recommendations and requests after investigating the hostage incident on March 29.
The inmate was serving a life sentence for murder, rape, robbery and assault at the time and ostensibly had a history of internal disciplinary transgressions.
According to the report, he entered the offices of the unit where he was employed as a cleaner, locked the steel “grill” door to the offices with a padlock and barricaded the door with two tables.
He apparently attacked the female warder, Nomsa Stuurman, in her office with a hammer and stabbed her to death with scissors, before taking another warder hostage and threatening her with the scissors.
During negotiations with police officials, the hostage was taken to a back office and raped.
On Friday, JICS spokesperson Emerantia Cupido said that when they made enquiries to determine what triggered the attack, allegations surfaced of inmates having their dignity violated and being treated inhumanely by officials, including Stuurman.
They received complaints of an inmate’s hand being burnt with a hot iron and another being beaten to the point of his artificial eye falling into a toilet and being flushed away.
Cupido said officials from the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) denied the allegations.
The JICS later received a complaint that an inmate was assaulted with a wooden baton-like weapon in front of one or more officials for “lying to the Inspecting Judge”.
“Further investigation revealed (inter alia in an affidavit by the perpetrator) that the homicide was prearranged between the inmate and a DCS official, who wanted the deceased assassinated. The implicated official has been suspended,” said Cupido.
The JICS found that the detail given on the alleged conspiracy and implication of an official as the instigator of the incident prima facie seemed to explain several security breaches.
These breaches included: the inmate being allocated as a cleaner in spite of his sentence and apparent history of rule transgression; the inmate apparently being allowed to work in the unit’s offices by a DCS unit case officer; and DCS officials allowing the inmate to leave their sight during the hostage incident.
The use of the padlock and distraction of male officials also indicated premeditation, it found.
“It is possible that more officials than the one suspended might have been involved in the alleged conspiracy, knowingly or unknowingly,” said Cupido.
It could not reach any conclusions on the allegations of torture, assault, and/or use of force by officials.
“On a balance of probabilities some seem to be true.”
Cupido said it would be extremely serious if there was any truth to the allegation that an inmate was assaulted for communicating with the inspecting judge. It wanted the DCS to investigate this and other allegations of assault urgently.
The JICS cautioned that part of its report were still preliminary as it had yet to receive a report from the correctional services department, and this could provide some important information.
It thanked the DCS and national commissioner for their cooperation and asked it to hand over its final report.
The JICS wanted documentation on the decision to employ the inmate as a cleaner and answers on whether the inmate was allowed to work in the offices and why he was allowed out of his cell when everyone else was already locked up.
It said the department and the police should thoroughly investigate allegations that DCS officials were involved and whether they faced disciplinary and/or criminal charges.
In a written reply to questions, the department said its minister, Ronald Lamola, met with the inspecting judge Johann van der Westhuizen to discuss the Goedemoed incident.
“Following the briefing the Minister and the Deputy Minister Inkosi Phatakile Holomisa visited Goedemoed and presided over a ceremony to pay tribute to the late Ms Stuurman. At this the Ministry announced that a process will be initiated to rename the facility after Nomsa Stuurman,” read the statement.
The department added that a number of “individuals have indeed been suspended for failing to comply with internal DCS procedure”.
It said Lamola and his deputy would prioritise the safety of staff at the country’s prisons “by adopting a digital mindset and ensuring that more personalised, human- centred design principles are applied to the security features in our facilities”.
Police spokesperson Sergeant Yanga Ngcukana said the suspect would appear in court on Monday when the murder and rape case is expected to be transferred from the Goedemoed Periodic Court to the regional court.