Fires, drugs and zombies: Kutama-Sinthumule prison officials ‘were warned, but they ignored us’

Prisoners in a recreational hall in Kutama-Sinthumule prison in 2014.

Prisoners in a recreational hall in Kutama-Sinthumule prison in 2014.

Theana Breugem/Media24/Gallo Images

Kutama-Sinthumule prison in Limpopo, was destroyed in a fire on 7 August. Two inmates died, 18 were hospitalised, and two prison officials were injured. All inmates have been relocated to other facilities. The prison is managed by the American security company GEO Group, with its partners Kensani Corrections and South African Custodial Services, employing around 560 staff. Daily operations, overseeing 3 024 beds, are subcontracted to South African Custodial Management.

Despite positive reviews from the Department of Correctional Services and the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services, dissatisfied prisoners have set the prison on fire four times in the past 15 years.

This investigation examines the underlying causes, and whether the issues are rooted in South Africa’s troubled prison system or the for-profit, multinational management of the facility.

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