Image credit: EPA via Aljazeera
The country is in the grip of a devastating coronavirus pandemic. Factors that contribute to the spread of the virus in the country in general – including population density; huge numbers of immunocompromised individuals due to the high prevalence of medical conditions like HIV and tuberculosis; and poor hygiene – are also responsible for it spreading within prisons. The elderly too are at a high risk of getting infected.
To date we have over 1187 people who have tested positive for the virus and the number of infections are increasing at an alarming rate. Moreover between 60 and 70% (41.5 million) of the population (59.5 million) are predicted to contract the infection, of which 19% (8 million) will be gravely ill and need hospitalization and 2.3% (1 million) will die. These predictions are in line with the government‘s adoption of the ‘herd immunity’ policy.
Black First Land First (BLF) has received complaints from prisoners and detainees of two prisons in Vereeniging – the Leeuhof Prison & Correctional Facility and the
Vereeniging Correctional Centre – that there are no visible protective measures in place to reduce the risk of the spread of the coronavirus that has already infected at least three people – one in the former and two in the latter prison.
To this end:
i. there are no screening, testing and monitoring mechanisms in place for prisoners and detainees;
ii. there is no ‘contact investigation’ process in place;
iii. those who were in contact with those that have contracted the virus (and tested positive) have not been tested nor quarantined;
iv. proper standards of hygiene are not observed due to the lack of sanitizers and masks at the very least;
v. social distancing and self-quarantining are practically challenging in the prison setup; and
vi. inmates are at high risk of contracting the virus, falling critically ill and even dying.
In each case the prison authorities have been made aware of the seriousness of the issue. To this end BLF’s letter to the Leeuhof Prison & Correctional Facility last week (23 March) has fallen on deaf ears. We have also written to the Vereeniging Correctional Centre and are awaiting their response.
The same situation prevails in other prisons in the country.
BLF accordingly calls on the correctional services ministry and authorities to:
i. act without delay to prevent the spread of the virus and loss of life among prisoners, detainees and even staff; and
ii. put proper mechanisms in place for testing; contact tracing; observance of proper standards of hygiene; and social distancing and self-quarantining for inmates
It will prove to be catastrophic should Correctional Services proceed as if everything is normal.
Issued by Black First Land First, National Coordinating Committee of (BLF NCC)
29 March 2020
Black First Land First Mail: [email protected]
(BLF Deputy President)
Cell: +27 79 986 7225