Photo: Adobe Stock
Photo: Adobe Stock
Hunger strikes are being held at at prisons around the country, with prisoners claiming that they are not being adequately protected from the threat of the rampantly spreading virus.
Speaking to Cape Talk, several prisoners from a variety of facilities said that they were not being given proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and say that social distancing efforts are futile. One prisoner said that no testing has been conducted at the Leeuwkop prison in the Western Cape.
Their demands are extreme – release prisoners in order to protect them from COVID-19 in overcrowded jails.
The South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights (Sapohr) released a statement on Saturday 18 April saying that unless inmates were given proper protection, they would take drastic measures.
“[A lack of support] will lead to Sapohr to call on its members, supporters and sympathisers to embark on an indefinite passive resistance, which includes downing tools, passive hunger strikes, disobedience, and nudity”, said Sapohr’s chief executive officer and prison rights activist, Golden Miles Bhudu.
The inmates at several prisons have now embarked on a hunger strike to force through a a relaxation on probation status’ for prisoners over 60 and those who find themselves behind bars for minor and/or first time offences.
A prisoner at Leeuwkop correctional facility who goes by the alias “Commander” said that the risk of contracting the virus in prisons was high.
“Our concern is that ever since the inception of this pandemic, there hasn’t been anything that has been procured in terms of health services concerning prisoners. As I speak with you now, here in Leeuwkop prison no one has been tested for this virus.”
“We were just told to do social distancing. We are casually seeing managers of this prison who do not stay within the quarters, we fear they will be the ones bring us this virus. They are not even wearing this PPE.”
“The last time we got soap was two weeks ago which we use for the whole body and to wash our clothes.”
Another prisoner at a different Western Cape facility said that social distancing was impossible in hopelessly congested spaces afforded to inmates.
“We are dealing with members that they themselves don’t know about the pandemic, they don’t know how to conduct themselves. How can we practice social distancing while we are living in a cell of 40 to 50 people?”
Spokesperson for Correctional Services Singabakho Nxumalo said that the allegations that prisoners were not being protected and tested was completely untrue.
“The allegations are not true,” he said. “People have been saying all these kind of things and we understand. No form of lies will put pressure on the state to start acting irrationally.”