27/12/2016 07:59 SAST | Updated 27/12/2016 08:06 SAST

Families Left Uncertain After St Albans Prison Clash Leaves 3 Dead, 26 Injured

Ten people are in a critical condition

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Three people were killed and a further 26 injured in a clash between prisoners and wardens at the St Albans Prison in Nelson Mandela Bay on Monday.

The prison has a history of inmates attacking their guards and has the reputation of being the most violent correctional facility in the Eastern Cape.

Health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo confirmed that emergency service personnel had been dispatched to St Albans following a brawl between inmates and guards on Monday.

Kupelo confirmed that one inmate is believed to have died from his injuries at the hospital facility on site, while a further two inmates died from their injuries after being transferred to the Livingstone hospital for further treatment.

Kupelo said several wardens had been among those transported to hospitals and that a total of 26 people had been injured in the brawl, and that 10 were in a critical condition. Kupelo said that circumstances surrounding the incident remained unclear.

Free for all

Eastern Cape Correctional Services Provincial Commissioner, Nkosinathi Breakfast, confirmed that there had been an incident at St Albans prison but said the full details were not yet available and that the department would only be issuing a statement on the matter on Tuesday.

According to a statement from the department of correctional services, three inmates died and 25 offenders and five officials sustained injuries following the incident which began at 09:00 on Monday.

Since the incident the prison has been under lockdown, with no visitors being allowed. Many family members of inmates at the prison, who were hoping to visit their loved ones on Boxing Day, were turned away at the gate.

The incident is believed to have broken out in the C Max section of the prison during the breakfast session, with initial reports that a prisoner stabbed a warder, sparking a free for all. Prisoners, believed to have been armed with shanks - homemade stabbing implements - attacked the wardens, who retaliated.

The deputy minister of justice and correctional services, Thabang Makwetla announced that he will visit the prison on Tuesday, accompanied by the department of correctional services national commissioner, Zach Modise.

Officials will address the media on Tuesday at 12:00.

Sources said it was a well-known fact that inmates pick up rank among the prison gangs if they drew blood from their guards.

In 2014, the SA Correctional Services Workers' Union (Sacoswu) called for an investigation and sought legal action against the management of the St Albans facility after two guards were stabbed within four days of each other.

At the time Sacoswu said there had been 28 attacks by inmates on warders over a period of 18 months, with many wardens resigning due to the ongoing violence against them.

Kept in the dark

Some family members of prison wardens took to Facebook to complain that they had been kept in the dark by the department following the incident, with rules preventing wardens from carrying cellphones while on duty compounding the situation.

"My sister is working there and shez on duty as we speak all we are doing is 2 pray coz we cant even contact her due 2 cellphones that are not allowed while inmates have landlines are ringing with no response......tough, [sic]" wrote Mapat Mzwali.

Mercia Brink said her brother-in-law also worked at St Albans and she had had to inform her sister about the incident after hearing about it through her sister-in-law.

"We don't have a clue about what's going on, cant even call my brother-in-law as they may not have their phones on them. The uncertainty makes a person crazy," she said.

Call for investigation

Democratic Alliance spokesperson on correctional services, James Selfe, said that he was "deeply concerned by reports that one inmate has been killed and another critically injured at the St Albans Prison in Port Elizabeth".

He said the DA would "request that the department conduct a full and thorough investigation into the events that led to this death and injury".

"It is not the first time that violent events have occurred at this prison and we cannot allow such incidents to go unaccounted for," Selfe said.

"The DA will further be writing to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services to request the Minister to appear before the Committee as soon as possible at the start of 2017 to account to Parliament for the events," he added.

The Congress of the People (Cope) also condemned the stabbing and assault of prison officials.

"The reported death of three inmates at the St Albans Prison in Port Elizabeth is very serious," Cope spokesperson Dennis Bloem said in a statement on Monday.

"The stabbing and assault of prison officials must equally be condemned. We must never allow this thuggery to continue in our prisons. It must be immediately stopped to save lives."