SOURCE: OPEN DEMOCRACY
On 17 December 2013, former inmate Tebogo Meje was called to the office of the unit manager in Mangaung prison, a South African jail run by British security behemoth G4S. There, members of the Emergency Security Team (EST)–a team of warders also known as the ‘ninjas’, armed with electrically charged shields and other non-lethal weapons–interrogated Meje. They asked him about the home-made weapons that were surfacing in the prison. Meje was not a member of the notorious prison gangs, who regularly stab each other and warders with weapons fabricated from shards of shattered toilet pots; on the contrary, he wasn’t even supposed to be in jail. One and a half years after the incident, the High Court acquitted him on appeal and he is now a free man again.
When Meje told the Ninjas he knew nothing of the knives, they didn’t let him go. “They made me lie on my stomach, stripped me of my shirt, poured water on me and then electroshocked me and kicked me,” Meje told the Wits Justice Project. “I had a swollen mouth, a swollen elbow and my skin was discoloured from the shocks,” he said.
Meje’s experience fits into a pattern of widespread abuse in Mangaung prison. In October 2013, I wrote a story for the South African Mail and Guardian and the British Guardian about routine assaults, electroshocking, forced injections with anti-psychotic drugs and lengthy isolation of inmates in the privately run prison. The expose was the culmination of a year-long investigation into the prison, consisting of interviews with approximately 70 inmates and dozens of warders, governmental reports and audio and video footage. It revealed a hellhole of a prison.