Holding cell horror

With tears in his eyes and a stammer in his voice, Doctor Gule, pleaded with the magistrate not to send him back to Sun City as the conditions were unbearable.

Gule, who has already been found guilty for theft, was in the Johannesburg Magistrates Court yesterday for his sentencing, but his case had to be postponed.

“They treat us like animals in there. Some of us are even sleeping around the toilets because of that,” Gule said.

Gule asked the magistrate to give him some money if they were sending him back to the prison. He said he needed the money to buy a bed for R50.

The cleaners are forcing the prisoners to pay for blankets and beds. As he had no family who could bring him money he had to sleep on the floor.

The magistrate, Naseema Kahn, dismissed his complaint and told Gule: “Tell them you are a “doctor”.  At the end of the day you prisoners use up our money as tax payers to support your lives in jail.”

She told Gule to write a letter to the head of correctional services as there was nothing she could do.

Public defender, Charlotte Snell, said Gule is one of many prisoners awaiting trial who are living in what they describe as the “most awful” conditions in the prison.

Snell said prisoners who were awaiting trial were living in cells that had a maximum capacity of 40 prisoners per cell, however up to 100 of them could be put into one cell.

 “All the prisoners, whether they are awaiting trial for petty thefts, rape or murders are kept in the same cells,” Snell said.

Snell said the issue of prisoners not having blankets was a big problem because Sun City is very cold. She said sometimes prisoners even get their shoes and clothes stolen from them.

When Snell took some Wits Vuvuzela reporters to view the court holding cell a prisoner explained that the trials were delayed so often with many reasons given such as further investigation.

He also told the reporters about the conditions and the bullying in prison.

“We have to buy blankets. Sometimes they steal our shoes. It’s winter. It’s so bad,” he said shaking his head.

Family and friends are not allowed to bring food to those who are in prison. This is because the wardens are worried that if the food is even slightly off one prisoner could get diarrhoea and because there are so many of them it will spread.

On top of that, toilet paper is rationed.

One of the prisoners there said he had been awaiting trial for three months. The situation for awaiting trial prisoners was even worse than those who had been convicted of serious crimes.

“Yes it is true. The prisoners that have already been sentenced have more privileges than those awaiting trials. They can further their studies and walk around,” Snell said.

Those awaiting trial said all they did everyday was wake up, eat and sleep.

Snell said prisoners could await trial for anything between a few days to two or more years.

She said that what was important when considering the prisoners’ living conditions is that “any person, at any time could find themselves in their position”.

As the Wits Vuvuzela reporters walked out of the holding cells the Inspector of the court said: “Yeah you see. Don’t steal chocolate there at the Pick ‘n Pay, you’ll get arrested and end up there.”

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