The National Task Team (NTT) visited Klerksdorp Management Area in the North West from 3 to 5 January for its first 2019 search operation. The NTT searched tirelessly but only had a few items in hand at the end of the first hour. Then a change in approach by team leaders uncovered hidden arsenals of weapons, knives and cell phones concealed in bags made of offenders’ bedding.
Mthuthuzeli Kampi, Klerksdorp’s Head of Centre expressed concern over the unsavoury behaviour of officials who are part of smuggling syndicates. Books were removed from offenders which contained records of money-lending transactions.
Digital transactions have replaced the conventional exchange of hard cash. Pin codes for deposits at local retail stores and their respective amounts were traced against dates and names. This mode of smuggling is the new way to exchange money. Klerksdorp’s acting Area Commissioner, John Msimango welcomed the intervention by the NTT. “Overcrowding at Potchefstroom has brought about an influx of gang rivalry. Violence has also escalated with one gang member being killed recently,” he said.
The number gangs in correctional centres have brought much violence against both inmates and officials in recent months. There is also a notable shift at Klerksdorp Management Area’s two facilities (Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom) where around 20 street gangs dominate in the communities and within correctional centres.
Potchefstroom’s Head of Centre, Sipho Mahlangu explained the Born to Suffer (BTS) street gang is currently the best-heeled in the area. Its membership is restrictive and limited to young inmates. Mahlangu has identified the centre’s hot spot (B Unit), which houses 772 remand detainees. The centre holds 2 038 inmates, more than double its approved capacity of 867.
Chief Security Officer (CSO), Lucky Mthethwa engaged with officials at Potchefstroom’s B-Unit on how they felt about the high number of contraband and weapons that were found. Many attributed the 12-hour shift pattern as the main reason for the severe staff shortages. The CSO emphasised that staff should ensure that security policies and procedures are implemented without fail to prevent security breaches, despite the challenges, while the shift pattern matter is being addressed.
In Mthethwa’s interviews with remand detainees, many indicated that the weapons found were not only meant for gang survival behind bars but also to keep officials at bay.
The NTT applied a professional and highly disciplined approach to its interventions. This has resulted in respect and appreciation of Emergency Support Team (EST) members and their worth in risk mitigation at gang riddled correctional centres. The removal of contraband has brought much relief to officials at Potchefstroom’s Correctional Centre where nine knives and 41 handmade sharpened objects were confiscated. The NTT has elevated the approach with regard to confiscated items, which are now signed off by the security delegate at correctional centres, together with offenders’ charge sheets for administrative follow-through by the centre.