Jailhouse shock: security nightmare at prisons
Vital surveillance gear isn't working amid a contractual row with a security service provider
Holes in the fence, broken body scanners and faulty metal detectors are but some of the security features not working at St Albans prison in the Eastern Cape.
Earlier this month, a prisons official was caught by colleagues smuggling in 16 cellphones, cellphone chargers, starter packs and drugs as he entered the prison’s premises. He has since been suspended.
Key security equipment such as body scanners, biometric finger-reading and cellphone and metal detectors were not functional at the prison.
Department of Correctional Services spokesperson Logan Maistry told Times Select there had been contractual disputes with the security systems service provider at St Albans.
He said the St Albans security maintenance contract, which was previously managed by Sondolo, a subsidiary of facility management company African Global (formerly known as Bosasa), expired in 2012. A new service provider was then appointed.
“The primary reason for this is that, due to contractual disputes with the current service provider, the maintenance contract is not being implemented,” said Maistry.
Maistry declined to give further details on the current problematic contract, saying it could place the security of the prison in jeopardy, but said it was “anticipated that it will be resolved as soon as possible”.
But Maistry also acknowledged there were security problems at prisons across the country.
“To ensure continuous security reviews, a task team has been appointed by the national commissioner and is currently conducting security assessments at all 243 correctional centres in the country to make sure that outstanding security matters are urgently addressed. Various other security measures are in place, to ensure that security at correctional centres is not compromised,” said Maistry.
Documents seen by Times Select show that close to R1bn has been spent since 2004 to improve security at prisons. This was part of the tender won by Bosasa in the early 2000s.
More than 1,800 cameras, 850 biometric readers, 600 metal detectors and 640 access-control systems have been installed in several prisons across the country since 2005, but today many are not working, according to a prisons union.
Between 2005 and 2006, Bosasa companies received R885m from the department to install security features in prisons. The amount included maintenance of the system. From 2012 to date the department has spent R190m on fixing broken fences and security systems at St Albans.
Bosasa was also contracted to run a national control centre in Pretoria, where all the prisons were monitored on CCTV. But according to the South African Correctional Services Workers Union (Sacoswu) in the Eastern Cape, none of the CCTV cameras are working.
Sacoswu leader Lando Sam said it was a crucial security feature for prisons.
“Having a CCTV monitoring system is very important for prisons. We have gangs in prisons and contrabands that are smuggled into the prisons. We need to have proper security, and ever since these were installed none is working today,” said Sam.
Sam said the St Albans prison fence is full of holes, placing the safety of staff and inmates at risk.
“With working cameras and with recording capacity, that could assist officials and managers to monitor activities at centres. A colleague was found with cellphones by an internal security operation doing searches in prison. When he saw that he sped off, but he was caught and these contrabands were found ... now we are resorting to internal security services, though billions of rands have been paid for security that is not working,” said Sam.
In KwaZulu-Natal, a Sacoswu official said Durban Westville prison also battled security problems. Provincial general secretary Skhithy Cele claimed a company called Phezulu Fencing, which is linked to Bosasa, left unfinished work at the prison a few years ago.
“They got the tender, they had issues with the department and left the work unfinished. The fencing was not finished at all and they’ve also closed a number of exits and entrances from the prison yard to our houses. Today we can’t reach the prison premises on time even if there’s an emergency,” said Cele.
African Global (formerly Bosasa) director Papa Leshabane would not comment, saying his company no longer had a contract with the department.
“The maintenance contract for security systems expired on the 31st of March 2012,” said Leshabane.
Bosasa made news headlines earlier this year for allegedly treating several high-profile ministers and government officials to hi-tech security systems in their homes. According to a report, it installed high-end CCTV cameras, alarm systems and electric fencing for ministers Gwede Mantashe and Nomvula Mokonyane, and deputy minister Thabang Makwetla since at least 2013.