By-Diligent Kgosi Mampuru Prison guards foiled what correctional services suspects would have been a prisoner escape on Tuesday.
National prisons boss Makgothi Samuel Thobakgale said officials on a daily inspection of cells in the maximum prison’s unit A discovered that window grills in a cell had been hacked with a saw, and immediately reported their discovery.
The cell housed two Zimbabwean nationals sentenced in June and July to 17 and 14 years in prison.
Thobakgale said correctional services suspected that the two compromised the window grills to further their escape plot.
He said Emmanuel Muchandizwa is serving 17 years for robbery and being in the country illegally while Thembani Mudau is serving 14 years for housebreaking and robbery.
“I received an incident report – which we receive on a 15-minute interval – that two inmates in unit A, for maximum offenders, had comprised window bars.
“Our officials, who run standard operating procedures such as testing doors, bars and windows, found the damage that could have led to a potential escape.”
Thobakgale did not disagree that the window bars were cut overnight, but alluded to the possibility that wardens and a member of the public “using visitation hours” were party to the plot.
“The investigation would reveal more,” he said, adding that after the discovery of the cut bars “six blades were located” in the cell.
National prisons boss Makgothi Thobakgale and his officials visit Kgosi Mampuru prison on Wednesday.
He said the inmates confessed that the “contraband blades were planted in sneakers and brought in from outside”.
He said normally the inspection is by different officials on a shift basis.
“This is the reason why we sometimes witness escapes.”
He said some wardens had been caught assisting prisoners before and disciplined, often their employment was terminated.
“Some wardens do not carry out their duties, however, the officials that were on duty [on Tuesday] did what they were expected to do, which led to the discovery of the tampered-with infrastructure.”
He said that often visiting relatives aided prison escapes.
“Members of the public, families that come and visit are the ones that also comprise our security systems. We have found contraband such as saws buried in the soles of sneakers, which are items used for escapes, such as this incident.”
Thobakgale said the department would intensify inmate and visitor searches and appealed to visitors to allow this thorough search, and for patience.
He said the two inmates were being monitored post their attempted escape and further offences would be added to their criminal record.
“They are in prison for rehabilitation programmes and their sentence plans will be looked at again.”
He said a police investigation was underway to uncover what led to the potential escape and tampering with government infrastructure.
He said the correctional services would look at employing more warders as the inmate population increased.
“We have 156 000 inmates in our correctional centres, an increase from 151 000 in November 2022.”
He said correctional services processes were slow, but 3 000 officials were currently being recruited.
He said currently fewer than 40 000 officials manned prisons.
“Of the 40 000, a quarter is looking at challenges of escapes, so we need more capacity to be able to foil escapes.”
He said one of the problems at correctional services was infrastructure, but applauded the officials who foiled the potential escape for a job well done.