Friday, 1 January 2010

Testimonies to the realities of imprisonment

David Smith in the Guardian reports today on a visit to Number Four prison in Johannesburg and highlights the testimonies of political prisoners who were imprisoned there.
Molefe Makiti, political prisoner, 1963: "The biggest thing in prison is sex. The way that the cell bosses would entice young men to have sex with them was by giving them better food."

Molefe Pheto, political prisoner, 1975: "Supper was a mixture of old rotten boiled fish whose stink would reach us, permeating from the prison's kitchens, long before the fish itself had arrived; and when it did so, it was hardly recognisable as fish, with hundreds of thin bones which made it difficult to eat, quite apart from the disgusting smell of it. On the day it was pig skins, the fat had long curdled … with the pieces of skins sticking out of the mess like shark fins."

Alex La Guma, political prisoner, 1956: "The tin plates … were unwashed and encrusted with layers of dried food accumulated over months, well mixed with rust … One of the reasons for my disease [typhoid] is found in this jail. Filth. The mats are filthy, the blankets are filthy, the latrines are filthy, the food is filthy, the utensils are filthy, the convicts' clothes are filthy. The latrines overflowed and made a stench."

Indres Naidoo, political prisoner, 1963: "'Strip!' We took off our clothes and stood stark naked in the yard … The warders mocked us for the nakedness they had ordered. 'Tausa!' We refused, we had seen other prisoners doing the tausa and we were not going to do it. The naked person leapt in the air, spinning around and opening his legs wide while clapping his hands overhead, and then in the same moment, coming down, making clicking sounds with the mouth and bending his body right forward so as to expose his open rectum to the warders' inspection."

Henry Nxumalo, pass offender, 1954: "I didn't know how it was done … I didn't jump and clap my hands. The white warder conducting the search hit me with his fist on my left jaw, threw my clothes at me and went on searching others."

Martin 'Panyaza' Shabangu, prison warder, 1973-80: "Some of these people grew up with me and as a warder I did not like to make them open their anus. Sometimes it was an old man in his 50s, a respectable somebody. White warders wouldn't have done it to their own people. But it was a duty that we were forced to do … The prisoners were cleverer than us. When they came from court or work, they were carrying things like blades and money which they could hide up their anus."

Samuel Nthute, political prisoner, 1963: "It was wrong, it was not nice. For us, the children of the Basotho nation, we respect elderly people. A man can never undress in front of me. But in this place they don't care. You undress, the older men in front of the younger men. But we could do nothing about it, absolutely nothing."

Prema Naidoo, political prisoner, 1982: "After we arrived in Number Four we did not have a shower for three or four months. Because of interaction of our lawyers, tackling the authorities, threatening them with interdict, they allowed us out to shower. It was cold water, but at least it was a shower. It was quite a relief. Then we were allowed to shower about once a week."

Godfrey Moloi, prisoner, 1956: "The bosses again. If they felt a man seemed to enjoy the shower, he was assaulted. One of the bosses would stand at the gate with a dish full of soft soap better known as 'sop-sop'. He would scoop it with his hand and paste it on to our heads as we rushed past him."

Molefe Pheto, political prisoner, 1975: "To add insult to injury, that unbelievably shameless, most degenerate species of human degradation, the white warders, would actually stand at the entrances of the toilets and watch us squatting over the floor toilet-pails trying to shit the slimes out of our bodies. I could not believe that type of indignity, it was beyond me to comprehend their nonchalance at their own debasement."
What I have found so very sad about South Africa in recent years is that despite the experience of imprisonment of so many leading figures in the ruling ANC they have allowed South Africa to develop a brutal and extensive prison system targeted at the poorest and most powerless sections of the black community.

Hat Tip Guardian
Photo Credit and more photos zampano

See also Black Looks

and Prison and Democracy: Lessons Learned and Not Learned, from 1989 to 2009 (although this does require you to have a log in)

No comments:

Post a Comment