The Boeremag prisoners serving their time in the Pretoria Maximum Security Prison in South Africa have no basic human rights at all. The Pretoria C Max prison is the maximum-security division of the Pretoria prison where prisoners are classified as dangerous, in terms of the South African Criminal Procedure Act. Such prisoners are placed in solitary confinement for most part of a day; the prison consists of two rows of fifty cells each.
The Pretoria prison is well known for its harsh treatment and decaying conditions. Last year, February inmates launched an appeal before the courts and sought legal advice about the extreme conditions and treatment received. They complained about the prison authorities failing with their constitutional duties toward prisoners. Bitter and outraged by the treatment given, they referred to preferential treatment of some prisoners and the lack of addressing problems. The department had fifteen days to respond to this charge, and the response is unknown.
Family members of the Boeremag prisoners visit on a regular basis and find this a frustrating ordeal, simply because of the lack of consideration. Visiting their family for over eleven years has not changed and conditions deteriorate all the time.
In Pretoria C Max prison, contact visits are not allowed with the Boeremag prisoners and they are seated behind a plastic shield separating them from their visitors. These small booths for visitors consist of about thirty in a single row. The visitor will sit opposite the prisoner and use an intercom system to communicate with their family. The partition between the small booths do not have any sound proof and more often than not, the visitors have to shout over the small intercom. This becomes noisy, and most visitors and prisoners cannot speak at all due to the noise factor. Prison wardens are allowed to listen to the conversations, thereby allowing no privacy at all.
The gloomy hallways are constantly patrolled by wardens who are uncaring and do not try to accommodate visitors who have a communication problem. Often, they will stare blankly at the visitor and after hearing the complaint, will walk away without even acknowledging the conversation. This is frustrating and difficult when a visitor would like to have a mere ten minutes to talk to their family.
During the last week, the Boeremag visitors also experienced a humiliating time while trying to visit their family members. This time there were only four of the thirty intercom systems working, and when this was mentioned to the wardens, they were non-complacent and replied that they could do nothing about this particular problem.
The visiting area is pathetic, it is dirty, and the infrastructure is falling apart. The small stools provided for visitors to sit on are broken and are falling apart. Beside the intercoms not working, the filth and the stench is a health hazard for most. The human basic right to communicate is a problem for not only the Boeremag prisoners but also all who face the same treatment. Uncaring and unprofessional staff monitoring these visits have a snappish attitude and do not attempt to assist with the smallest request.
The filth and dirt in these areas are so obvious, it tears down the basic human rights of people. No people, whether free or imprisoned, should be forced to live in such squalid conditions. There is no dignity left and the prisoners are treated in a brutal manner. There conditions remain a concern and their surroundings decay daily into a terrible state, worsening with time.
Nelson Mandela served a prison sentence for twenty-seven years and in his own words said, “Look at a country’s prisons and you can determine the circumstances of the country.” That sentence can determine the exact state of the country with most prisons experiencing the same degrading and dirty conditions. The failing democracy of South Africa points to the civil service spiraling out of control.
There is clearly room for improvement in South African prisons, and with the high crime rate, the overcrowding and police brutality within these prison structures remain a constant worry. To ensure a proper place of correction and to rehabilitate a wrong doer, requires a serious commitment from police officials, and this could take years to correct. The abuse behind the prison walls is a serious matter and intimidation of prisoners are a human rights nightmare.
Prisoners are usually too scared to speak or express their concern, knowing that their lives will be endangered by the forceful brutality of the police. Beatings by police wardens and gang systems within the police officials should be thoroughly investigated. Statements from prisoners should be scrutinized, and staff members applying force or brutality should be disciplined.
Eleven years of trying to visit your family is an arduous dilemma for any human being. The Boeremag prisoners together with other inmates experience the most shameful living conditions. Their visitors are treated worse than scum, and the staff of C Max remains downright rude and obnoxious.
The South African prisons are like filthy dens where nothing works and no person, according to the constitution, should remain or receive treatment in such a degrading manner, including their visitors. Dignity should prevail. While the Boeremag prisoners remain chained behind bars in the most undignified conditions, their visitors should at least be treated with respect. The basic human rights of every individual should include dignity.
By Laura Oneale