Two more prisoners have died in hospital as a result of the fire at the Kutama-Sinthumule prison in Louis Trichardt, Limpopo.
Last week, disgruntled prisoners torched the 3 000-bed facility after officials failed to meet their demands to transfer them to prisons closer to their homes.
Following the arson, authorities say the evacuation of prisoners is well underway with just under 600 prisoners awaiting evacuation.
“As of 17 August 2023, 2436, inmates have been transferred to various centres across the country. Invariably, we have seen a sharp increase in the rates of overcrowding in those facilities. For example, the maximum facility in Makhado Correctional Centre has moved up from 219,67 % to 235, 41 %, Polokwane Correctional Centre has increased from 218, 25 % to 236, 11 %, and Rooigrond Correctional Centre has shot up from 147, 91 % to 171, 32 %,” says Ronald Lamola, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services.
Authorities say that the number of fatalities has increased to three with 18 injuries reported.
“Unfortunately, the number of fatalities has increased by three. The causes are not yet known due to the fact that we are still awaiting postmortem results,” Lamola adds.
The contract between the government and the facilities management company costs over R40 million monthly.
Prison officials say that there will be no payments made to the company without inmates occupying the prison.
“The contract is designed in a manner that the department pays for occupied beds. Now, this institution has lost 3 024 beds basically. All the beds have been lost. So we are not going to pay for those currently and in terms of the renovations to the facility itself that is covered in the contract. It’s the responsibility of the contractor,” says Makgothi Thobakgale, National Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services.
Officials say that while investigations are ongoing, preliminary investigation shows that an inbuilt fire lighter was used to spark the fire, before the inmates ran from one building to another torching the facilities.
Prison authorities say that so far one person has been charged for arson and that this number may increase once investigations are concluded.
Video: Minister Lamola visits Kutama-Sinthumule prison