The South African Sentenced and Awaiting Trial Prisoners’ Organisation (Sasapo) says it’s not surprised by the torching of sections of the Potchefstroom Correctional Facility in the North West.

A video of the burning facility has gone viral on social media platforms. In the video, hundreds of inmates are seen gathered in a hall, apparently celebrating the fire outbreak.

Sasapo says disgruntlement of inmates over overcrowded cells and the fear of the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) might have caused the burning of the prison.

Part of the prison up in flames, with beds and blankets in ashes and Sasapo says this was bound to happen because of the disgruntlement of inmates.

The organisation insists that some prisoners should have been released to avoid contracting COVID-19.

Sasapo Chairperson Phindile Zweli says she is not surprised by the fire.

“I am not surprised. I received these threats from the inmates a week ago and I did interact with the office of the national commissioner and I informed her that this is going to happen because the Department of Correctional Services is dragging its feet in releasing the 19 000 inmates that were supposed to be released. I am not surprised.”

The Correctional Services Department has confirmed the incident. It says the situation has gone back to normal.

“Officials and emergency services managed to distinguish the blaze which affected about 12 cells in the bay unit. We don’t have any injuries of both officials and inmates as the officials reacted with the necessary urgency to put out the fire,” Correctional Service’s Tshidi Mapole said.

North West Police Spokesperson Sabata Mokgwaabone says the police are investigating a case of arson.

“The information received is that the building is partially burned, but items which were in the building such as blankets and mattresses were damaged. We have not received reports of injuries except the police official who inhaled the smoke. The cause of the incident is unknown at the stage and investigation into the matter continues.”