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News24.com | Pollution on our plate: How waste is ending up in fish caught off the Cape coast

The ocean around Cape Town is so polluted that pharmaceutical and industrial chemical compounds are accumulating in the flesh of fish caught off the coast, reports GroundUp. Meanwhile, the City of Cape Town’s water quality reports remain hidden from the public.


Scientists from the University of the Western Cape’s chemistry department have found that fish caught by small scale commercial fishers in Kalk Bay are contaminated by antibiotics, pain killers, antiretrovirals, disinfectants, and industrial chemicals.

Species tested include snoek, bonita, hottentot (Cape bream) and panga, obtained from random daily commercial catches sold at Kalk Bay harbour in late 2017.

In their peer-reviewed paper, senior Professor Leslie Petrik at the University of Western Cape’s Chemistry Department, and Cecilia Y. Ojemaye tested for 15 different chemical compounds in the fish fillets, gills, liver, and intestines.

These include the analgesic/anti-inflammatories Diclofenac and Acetaminophen, the antiepileptic drug Carbamazepine, the antibiotic Sulfamethoxazole, the disinfectant Triclosan, as well as various industrial chemicals found in pesticides, flame retardants, and personal care products. These were all present in various parts of the fish tested.

“Overall, diclofenac had the highest concentration out of all the pharmaceutical compounds,” notes the report, while the antibiotic Sulfamethoxazole was detected in at least one part of all the fish species (fillet, gills, liver, and intestine).

The industrial chemicals, or perfluoralkyl compounds (perfluoroundecanoic acid, pefluorodecanoic acid, perfluorononanoic acid, pefluorooctanoic acid, and perfluoroheptanoic acid), all “showed a high risk, both acute and chronic, in the fillet parts of the fish, which is the part humans consume,” state Petrik and Ojemaye.

Each chemical compound has a different acute and chronic risk associated with it, says Petrik.

The presence of pharmaceutical compounds in fish is due to untreated or poorly treated sewage flowing into our ocean. This is because drugs are not wholly metabolised in the body.

Storm water is a probable source of pesticide and industrial chemical pollution. This study, and others to which the authors refer, shows that these chemical compounds accumulate, not only in fish but also in our bodies, and in other marine organisms.

Sources of pollution 

Cape Town pumps about 37 million litres of sewage out to sea per day, from marine outfalls in Green Point, Camps Bay, and Hout Bay. The only treatment at these pump stations – confirmed by City authorities – is that the raw sewage is pumped through a grid to remove solids such as tampons and grit. The sewage pumped out at Green Point includes waste from the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, as well as all medical and light industrial facilities between Salt River and Bantry Bay.

While there are no marine outfalls in False Bay, both the Strandfontein and Zandvliet waste water treatment works discharge into the bay. The treated water is supposed to meet minimum standards for the presence of microbial bacteria such as E.coli and Enterococcus, which are indicator organisms for the presence of other microbes. Historically, coastal water quality tests – the results of which used to be presented along with inland water quality data at subcouncil meetings twice a year until 2013 – taken near these outlets sometimes failed the minimum guidelines. This indicates these sewage works have not always treated the effluent to the necessary standards, or that storm water containing high levels of sewage is running out to sea.

The City has said that no testing or treatment for chemical compounds such as those indicated in Ojemaye and Petrik’s study, is undertaken.

Water channelled from roads and gutters into storm water drains, which then flow either directly to the sea, or into streams and rivers which discharge to the ocean, are also heavily polluted.

The City’s water and waste services department, headed by mayco member Xanthea Limberg, has regularly blamed storm water run-off following periods of rainfall, rather than discharge from marine outfalls and sewage treatment works, when coastal water quality tests fail minimum guidelines.

This is despite the national Department of Environmental Affairs regulations that storm water pollution must be treated at source.

The most recent sewage spill into the Zandvlei estuary, which flows into False Bay at Muizenberg, was reported by Zandvlei nature reserve manager Kyran Wright to have occurred on May 9, resulting in the entire water body being closed for recreational purposes on May 15 and only being reopened on May 31.

A sewage spill into the Sand River canal, which flows into Zandvlei, was also reported on April 24.

These are but the latest reported incidents of sewage pollution into the estuary, which is a nursery for fish in False Bay.

Little information on water quality 

It is not clear how often coastal water quality at Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, Strandfontein and other testing sites on the coastllne fail the minimum guidelines for the presence of indicator organisms such as E.coli and Enterococcus, as the City no longer makes the results of its tests available to the public.

Repeated requests by GroundUp to the City over the past 18 months to provide the results of the inland and coastal water quality tests conducted on a monthly and twice-weekly basis respectively, have not yielded any results.

Limberg has said the results of the City’s inland and coastal water quality monitoring “are presented at various public opportunities such as catchment management fora meetings, Protected Area Advisory Committees (PAAC), as well as monthly to the Water and Sanitation Department director.”

But the chairperson of the Zandvlei Trust, Peter Kruger, who is present at such meetings, said no water quality reports are received by the trust.

The Fish Hoek Valley Ratepayers and Residents Association has received water quality monitoring data from the City, but had to submit a Public Access to Information Act request and sign a non-disclosure agreement. Thus the information cannot be shared.

The most recent communication from Limberg’s office to GroundUp earlier this month, was: “The City is in the process of compiling this information for a new coastal water quality report that will be presented to council structures during the early part of the coming 2019/20 financial year. We can share a copy of the report as soon as it’s been through the relevant council committees. If all goes according to plan, this should be around August.”

Attempts to get further information from Limberg last week were unsuccessful.

The latest water quality reports available are from 2016, in the State of the Environment Report published by the City in 2018. There is no detail in the data, only averages. These show that Fish Hoek, Muizenberg, Mnandi, Monwabisi, and Kalk Bay Harbour beaches, among others, failed the minimum guidelines for water quality averaged over the year.

On the Atlantic side, Three Anchor Bay (between Mouille Point and Sea Point), Saunders Rocks in Sea Point, and The Kom in Kommetjie also failed averaged minimum guidelines.

Scientists from UWC, Stellenbosch University, and UCT, have also repeatedly raised concerns about the dangerously high microbial levels in the lower Kuils River, which flows into False Bay via the Eersterivier near the north-eastern corner of the bay. The City has continually denied the pollution is caused by the discharge from the Zandvliet sewage works, but has not been seen to deal with the unacceptably high microbial levels found in the river. Instead, officials from the City’s water and waste services department launched a scathing attack on the scientists themselves in Daily Maverick, but failed to resolve the question of pollution levels.

Furthermore, it is not known what chemicals are leaching into False Bay from the Coastal Park landfill site next to Muizenberg. The landfill, which is decades old, is a mere 700 metres from the ocean. Numerous groundwater studies, including by senior professor of hydrology at UWC, Yongxin Xu, point to leaching from the landfill flowing into False Bay via our groundwater.

E.coli levels

Students involved in a South African–Norway Cooperation on Ocean Research (Sanocean) study under a senior lecturer in the department of community health at Stellenbosch University, Dr Jo Barnes, have recently tested the levels of E.coli in Fish Hoek storm water systems.

The results of tests for the number of E.coli colony forming units (cfu) per 100ml at four sites tested on May 30 were:

  • Site 1 – 5/100ml
  • Site 2 – 289 500/100ml
  • Site 3 – 230 000/100ml
  • Site 4 – above 1 210 00/100ml

Above 10cfu/100ml is high risk for drinking water, while above 2000cfu/100ml is a high risk from full or partial contact with such water. E.coli can cause gastroenteritis, resulting in severe diarrhoea, which can be fatal for infants, young children, and adults with compromised immune systems. Open wounds or cuts can also become infected.

The Fish Hoek sites 2, 3, and 4 contained E.coli levels consistent with raw sewage, Barnes said at an academic workshop in June. Site 1 was clean because there was a major leak from a drinking water pipe which was flushing the storm water system at that point.

Results from sites on the Plankenbrug River flowing through Kayamandi near Stellenbosch, where students from the University of Chicago took samples in 2018, showed E.coli counts ranging from 600 000 to more than six million cfu/100ml.

This showed that storm water systems were acting as “a second sewerage system” said Barnes.

Even more alarming was that 100% of the E.coli organisms were found to be resistant to the antibiotic amoxicillin. And while the microbial resistance to ciprofloxacillin at testing sites on the Plankenbrug River was at 58% in 2003, it had also risen to 100% resistance.

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News24.com | The Proteas should take a leaf out of President Ramaphosa’s book

2019-06-26 05:00

The Proteas’ apparent lackadaisical approach to the World Cup and Faf du Plessis’s view of life carrying on afterwards have been disappointing. They should take a leaf out of President Ramaphosa’s book, writes Mandy Wiener.

At the start of the ICC Cricket World Cup last month, I bought my 5-year-old an original Proteas supporters’ shirt for R700. Pricey, but the real value for me was in instilling in him a passion for the game which I so love and the patriotism of supporting a national team. 

South Africans are notoriously fickle fans and I too can be highly critical of our national team, but I’ve supported them through the multiple heartaches of previous world cups. From the 1999 Allan Donald run-out (why didn’t he just run?!) to the Shaun Pollock maths fail in 2003 (damn you, Duckworth and Lewis) and on until that semi-final loss to New Zealand in 2014.

When the Cricket World Cup rolled around again this year, I felt that our chances weren’t necessarily great, but as a country we needed the patriotism, the passion and the “gees” that invariably come with backing a team that is competitive. It’s been a tough few years for the nation with dire GDP figures, political upheaval, the evisceration of state agencies, the collapse of state-owned entities and the revelation of widespread corruption. We were desperate for a distraction from the multiple inquiries that are running and the ugly political spats between Ace, Cyril and their factions.

The national psyche was struggling and we all know how uplifting sport can be. The research proves it. There are mental health advantages, higher levels of well-being and general happiness from claiming a sports team as your own. Studies show that blood pressure rises during games and testosterone drops after a loss, but “fandom” generally makes you much happier.

According to Murray State University’s Daniel Wann, author of Sport Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact Of Spectators, these benefits come from either following a successful team or from merely identifying with them. In short, the community you are part of lifts your spirits. So just supporting the Proteas, even if they don’t do well, makes you feel like you are part of something.

That’s pretty much the message I was trying to pass on to my son. Every time the Proteas played this month, he has run to put on his supporters’ shirt and tried to understand as I’ve explained the bizarre rules of the game. His favourite question: “Mom, who do we want to win?” Like his mom, he is very competitive.

So it has been quite difficult to explain to him why we keep supporting a losing team. I tell him that the other team is just better than us on the day. What is really difficult to explain though, to both him and to myself, is the way in which our team has been losing. Without a fight and without a hunger to win.

The team’s apparent lackadaisical approach to the tournament and Faf du Plessis’s view of life carrying on after the World Cup, has been disappointing and underwhelming. Seeing Quinton de Kock sitting barefoot on the balcony at the Lord’s Cricket Ground whilst losing to a below average Pakistan team, illustrated it all. The fight was missing.

And that’s what we needed as a country to jumpstart our national psyche. In an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “The Meaning of Joy”, sportswriter Jason Gay talks about a viral video of UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi’s perfect 10 floor routine. While the technical performance was perfect, the video went viral because of Ohashi’s attitude.

Gay explains that people who watch her are “thrilled by it, enchanted by it, wonderstruck by it, moved by it… It’s joyful. It’s so, so joyful. It radiates warmth and glee.” It’s the emotional contagion of watching someone do something with passion, enthusiasm and pure joy.

In a way, that is also what President Cyril Ramaphosa was attempting to do at the State of the Nation Address last week. He was seeking to inspire and spark patriotism by dreaming. His approach may not have been well received, but full marks for trying to lift us up as a country when we have become so cynical, so misguided and so distrustful of our politicians. 

Banyana Banyana may have lost all their World Cup games this month, but at least they demonstrated to us that they were enjoying themselves and that they were trying. As Bafana Bafana set off on their African Cup of Nations campaign, that’s all we ask of them too – that they show some appetite and hunger to win. As a country, we need it now more than ever and I need it to prove to my son why he should keep supporting.

– Wiener is a specialist reporter for News24.

** Want to respond to the columnist? Send your letter or article to voices@news24.com with your name, profile picture, contact details and location. We encourage a diversity of voices and views in our readers’ submissions and reserve the right not to publish any and all submissions received.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views.The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

News24.com | Cops hunt for burglar with half a nose after security guard sinks teeth into suspect

Police in the Free State are on the hunt for a suspect with half a nose after it was bitten off by a security guard during a scuffle at a church in QwaQwa.

Spokesperson Sergeant Mmako Mophiring told News24 two suspects had attempted to burgle the place of worship in the early hours of Saturday morning when they were spotted by the security guard who was employed by the church following a spate of thefts of its microphones and sound equipment.

A scuffle broke out with one of the suspects, during which his accomplice fled.

“The security guard and the burglar wrestled and the guard bit off part of his nose, which fell to the ground,” he said.

“The suspect also bit the guard’s finger but didn’t pierce his skin.”

The bleeding suspect then fled the scene.

Mophiring said the police were in contact with local health facilities, hoping that the suspect would seek medical help for his injury, as was the case last week when an alleged rapist was nabbed at a hospital where he sought treatment for a bloodied mouth.

The suspect allegedly broke into a single mother’s home in Makwane in the early hours of the morning and raped the woman as well as her two children aged 1 and 5, Mophiring said.

During the attack on the mother, he attempted to kiss her, and she bit his lower lip.

“He was in pain and bled profusely. He went to a local hospital for assistance an hour after the attack, and although he gave a false name and details, he was arrested on three counts of rape.”

Suspected of being a serial rapist, the police were in the process of trying to link him to other cases, Mophiring confirmed.

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News24.com | 22 tons of garbage collected in wake of Gupta-weddings – reports

Twenty-two tons of garbage. That is the aftermath of two Gupta family weddings in an ecologically sensitive area in the Indian province of Uttrakhand, says international media reports.

The wedding of Ajay Gupta’s son, Suryakant, was celebrated from June 18 to 20, and Atul Gupta’s son Shashank’s wedding from June 20 to 22 in Auli, a ski resort in the Himalayas.

In true Gupta style, local politicians and celebrities attended the lavish celebrations, including Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat. The chief minister is equivalent to what in South Africa would be a premier.

According to a report by India Today, Rawat blessed the newlyweds and thanked the Guptas for choosing Auli as the venue for their sons’ weddings as it would promote the area as a wedding destination, boosting tourism.

However, several Indian news sources reported that local authorities had to deal with cleaning up the waste and garbage left in the Guptas’ wake.

Gulf News and the Financial Express reported that 22 tons of waste had been collected from the wedding site between Sunday and Monday. The municipality had to bring in seven to eight trucks for the purpose, officials said. Municipal officials expect the clean-up to be completed by Sunday.

The municipality has not reported that the wedding caused any environmental damage.

Helicopters banned

The Uttarakhand High Court banned the use of helicopters and the construction of a helipad shortly before the weddings. It also ordered the state pollution control board to monitor them.

The judgment follows what is called public interest litigation in the Indian judicial system, which was brought by a resident of Kashipur, Rakshit Joshi. He argued that the lavish weddings would damage the environment, while the state would be failing to uphold earlier court directives to protect it.

READ MORE: Indian court grounds Gupta wedding helicopters

Last year, Indian tax authorities attached at least 31 properties belonging to the Guptas.

The Gupta brothers first raised South African eyebrows when in 2013 a private plane carrying about 200 guests to the wedding of Vega Gupta and Aakash Jahajgarhia were allowed to land at Waterkloof Air Force Base, with blue light brigades whisking the guests to Sun City. Several ministers and political figures attended the wedding.

As the Guptas’ hold on the South African state was exposed, it emerged that public money was used to fund the extravagant Sun City wedding.

The #GuptaLeaks detailed the intricacies of how R30m from the provincial government-funded Estina dairy project in the Free State was laundered through a series of bank accounts in the United Arab Emirates to pay for the wedding.

Eight people, including the bride’s brother, Varun Gupta, were charged in relation to the Estina case last year, but the charges were provisionally withdrawn by the National Prosecuting Authority in November.

Last month, the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria found Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s report on the Estina dairy farm project to be unconstitutional and set it aside on the grounds that she failed in her duties to investigate and report on the controversial project.

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News24.com | Van Damme to Zille in epic twar over racist V&A Waterfront incident: ‘I don’t kowtow to bullies’

Former DA leader ignited a twar between her and DA communications spokesperson Phumzile van Damme on Sunday. 

Twitter user @Alettaha was the spark that set the whole thing in motion after claiming that Van Damme was the aggressor in a “racist incident” that made headlines last week

In the incident, Van Damme punched a young man “in self-defence”, after he came into her space and allegedly said “voetsek you black” and threw her phone on the ground.

Zille then replied to @Alettaha, saying: “It is hard, in these circumstances, to work out where the truth lies.”

Zille further said the people who were also involved in the incident might be too scared to come forward. 

This set off the twar, with Van Damme responding.

And this is what followed: 

News24.com | ‘We told them to fix the lifts’, says resident in Joburg building where woman died

A resident of two years in the Johannesburg building where a woman died allegedly because of a defective lift, says there had been malfunctions for a long period of time.

“The lift has been a constant problem there. It stops mid-floors. It would get stuck and then start moving again. It would stop and it would be in the middle of two floors. It would also get stuck in the basement. We told them to fix the lifts, saying it’s going to cause a problem,” Bea Campbell-Cloete told News24 on Sunday.

READ: Johannesburg woman dead after cable snaps, shooting lift up 26 floors

Campbell-Cloete rented an apartment on the 26th floor where a woman in her 40s died on Sunday – this after she was trapped in a lift at the 120 End Street High Rise building in Doornfontein in Johannesburg.

The cable allegedly snapped and shot up 26 floors. ER24 paramedics attempted to stabilise the woman; however, access was lifted because the lift was unstable.

Two other male passengers managed to escape the lift with one crawling free through the remaining gap between the top of the interior door and bottom of the lift door.

‘Three lifts not working’

Campbell-Cloete was in the process of moving furniture out when she came across the incident.

“When we turned into the road, we saw ambulances and the fire brigade. We hoped someone wasn’t hurt or mugged. We went up and got on the 26th floor and saw people everywhere. Everyone was in shock and could not believe this happened. Many said they would be moving out.”

She said that the building initially had good working lifts, a total of six, but that as recent as a few weeks ago, just three had been working.

“It tells you that there is a problem. Sometimes the lifts would keep going up and down stop between floors.”

One of the building supervisors, only identified as Solly, declined to comment. He further declined to refer News24 to any building management.

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News24.com | Guard allegedly shoots his wife at Bloemfontein shopping centre following quarrel

Police are investigating a case of murder after a security guard allegedly shot his wife at a shopping centre in Rocklands, Bloemfontein on Friday.

According to police, the couple had a quarrel at the shopping centre, which ended with the suspect allegedly drawing his service firearm and shooting his wife.

The victim, who was also a security guard, working at the National District Hospital in Bloemfontein died on the scene.

The suspect then handed himself over to police.

In a statement, Free State MEC for Health Montseng Tsiu said she was shocked to learn about the shooting.

Tslu said she trusts that law enforcement agencies will do their best to get to the bottom of this matter and establish what could have been the source of this horrific incident.

“I send my heartfelt and deepest condolences to family, relatives, colleagues and friends of our departed colleague. I urge everyone to support this family in every possible way,” Tslu said.

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News24.com | SEE: Fikile Mbalula addresses mass funeral for victims of Limpopo crash

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has paid his last repects at a mass funeral that was underway in Ga-Rapitsi, Limpopo, on Saturday morning for 21 of the 24 young people who died in a horror crash on the R81 outside Mooketsi in Limpopo last Sunday.

A collision involving a minibus taxi and a bus on the R81 in Maphalle, in Limpopo has claimed the lives of 24 people, News24 reported.

It is believed that the occupants of the minibus were returning from Youth Day celebrations in the province when the accident occurred at approximately 20:30 on Sunday evening.

“We are here to mourn young people whose lives were cut short in their prime in the most tragic circumstances. Your loss is the loss of the nation. Your pain is our pain. No parent should go through the pain of burying their own children,” said Mbalula.

“Our public transport system cannot be coffins on wheels where innocent people lose their lives because of the careless behaviour of others… Similarly, our roads cannot be gravesites, but pathways that connect our people to centres of economic activity and social amenities such as hospitals and institutions of learning. Each death on our roads is one death too many.”

In attendance at the mass funeral are Mbalula, Deputy Minister Dikeledi Magadzi and the Premier of Limpopo, Stanley Mathabatha.

They have been joined by the Limpopo MEC for Transport Dickson Masemola, the Executive Mayor of Mopani District Municipality, Cllr Pule Shai, and the Mayor of Greater Letaba Municipality, Cllr Peter Matlou.

Acting CEO of the Road Accident Fund (RAF), Lindelwa Xingwana-Jabavu, and CEO of the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), Advocate Makhosini Msibi, were also in attendance. 

The Department of Transport announced that a task team comprising the Provincial Departments of Health, Social Development, Transport and Community Safety, as well as the Letaba District Municipality, the Mopani Local Municipality and RAF, has played an active role in assisting families of the deceased with preparations for the memorial and funeral services.

“The National Department of Transport would like to convey its gratitude to the task team and other key role players such as the traditional leaders and community structures, for their coordinated efforts in supporting the families of the deceased during this difficult time,” said Mbalula

Watch Mbalula’s eulogy here:

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News24.com | Prisoner denied access to personal laptop for studies takes authorities to court

An inmate at Johannesburg Medium C Correctional facility has taken the head of the prison, the national commissioner and the Minister of Correctional Services to court in an attempt to have access to a laptop for his studies.

The prison has denied Mbalenhle Nkosi access to his laptop, which he needs for distance learning. He has accused the authorities of “infringing on his right to further education” by restricting his study time to when the computer room is open.

Nkosi, who is representing himself in court, opened a case in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg. The case was supposed to be heard on June 18, but it was postponed to give Nkosi time to study the prison’s court papers.

“The [prison] seeks to unfairly, irrationally, unjustifiably and unconstitutionally limit my basic right to education by limiting and unreasonably dictating the hours during which I am permitted to study,” Nkosi said in court papers. “This, despite the fact that I am locked up in a single cell for prolonged periods without anything constructive to do in all of that time. This goes against the very fabric of rehabilitation, and is contradictory to me becoming a productive individual upon my reintegration into society.” 

Nkosi is a registered student at Oxbridge Academy – a private distance learning college based in Stellenbosch, Western Cape. He enrolled in a computer studies course in November 2017. He has two months left of his course before his registration expires.

Nkosi started serving a 20-year sentence in March 2011. When he started studying in 2017, he was permitted to use his personal laptop in his cell because there was no computer room facility at Johannesburg Medium B Prison.

About a year later, he was transferred to Johannesburg Medium C Prison, where his laptop was confiscated upon arrival. He said he had shown the head of education in the prison his registration letter and his proof of tuition payment, but “she couldn’t care less”.

‘I was forced to drop out’

He then wrote an application to be allowed a laptop in his cell, stating that he was a registered student and his course required access to a laptop.

His application was denied by the prison management, who said Oxbridge Academy confirmed that Nkosi only needed a computer to type his assignments, which could be done in the computer room. They recommended that a state desktop in the computer room be allocated to Nkosi.

In email correspondence between Gauteng regional commissioner of correctional services, Thakane Grace Molatedi, and Nkosi’s fiancé, Sandy Sibanyoni, Molatedi said: “Due to security challenges of offenders utilising computers and laptops for other activities except for study purposes at most correctional centres, the offender cannot be allowed to have the computer in his cell, but will be afforded an opportunity to use the computer room for study purposes.”

Nkosi said his studies have already been compromised, after eight months of fighting to use his laptop in his cell. He said he will also incur a financial cost for not completing his course in the stipulated time.

“I was forced to drop out and linger around like most of the inmates, without studying or doing anything to develop myself,” Nkosi told GroundUp.

“You always hear from the society out there that inmates are quick to re-offend after being released from prison… Is this type of behaviour by prison officials… not part of the reason why inmates re-offend because they go out of prison without education or skill?”

Nkosi said he needs to complete this course so that he is technologically savvy when he is released.

“Technology is constantly advancing, so I need to keep up,” he said. He wants to start a career in Information Technology and open his own internet café.

“My family paid for my course out of their own pocket, so this means a lot to me. You must remember that I have kids on the outside, so I need to do what it takes to have all the skills I need to support them when I am released,” said Nkosi.

Correctional services explains its position

The Department of Correctional Services was unable to comment on Nkosi’s case because it is currently before the High Court, but its national spokesperson, Singabakho Zwide, said inmates were granted access to laptops through application or by using the computer room facility.

He said the application would have to substantiate why it was necessary for them to use it in their cell and, even then, they were not allowed to keep it overnight and it was monitored very closely.

This was because having laptops in cells was a security risk, according to Zwide.

“Inmates can use laptops to create fraudulent documents, even when they do not have access to the internet… They are able to smuggle memory cards and clone sim cards… You’ll be surprised at what happens in these facilities,” he said.

“We don’t just take laptops away as a form of punishment or because we feel like it… We take them away when inmates have contravened the rules by going on websites they are not allowed to go on, like social media… Sometimes we find pornographic material, so we have to confiscate them,” Zwide told GroundUp.

When laptops were confiscated, Zwide said the inmates still had access to computer rooms.

“There is a very convenient facility called the ‘UNISA hub’ where laptops are given to inmates in a computer room. Any registered student is allowed to use this facility and there are IT [Information Technology] specialists monitoring what inmates are doing on their computers and which sites they are visiting,” he said.

But Zwide said he was aware that not all prisons had computer rooms.

“So if an inmate wants to register for a degree or course, we encourage them to request for a transfer to Kgosi Mampuru II [prison] for example, where they will have access to computers.”

When asked about the restriction it places on the amount of study time for inmates, Zwide said: “We acknowledge that but we also can’t ignore the security risks that come with it… Some victims on the outside have been threatened by inmates so we have to monitor these things closely,” he said.

“We are even struggling to control contraband such as cellphones… If they use laptops in their cells, they could use cell phones as hotspots to access the internet which poses a greater security risk.”

He said some inmates contravened policies, which forced the prison to confiscate their laptops.

“Then they take us to court, saying we are infringing on their right to education,” said Zwide. “We always tell the courts that our intention is not to prevent further studying. In fact, we encourage inmates to study further because it is part of our rehabilitation programme.”

Access to computer ‘a necessity, not a privilege’

The policy which prevents inmates from using laptops in their individual cells is applied inconsistently, which raises concerns about the cogency of the security argument.

A similar case was argued in Hennie and Others v Minister of Correctional Services and Others in the North Gauteng High Court in 2018. Judge Jody Kollapen said in his judgment that the policy which prevents inmates from using laptops in their individual cells is applied inconsistently which “…raises concerns about the cogency of the security argument advanced by the [correctional facility]”.

He also noted that prisons without computer rooms, like the prison Nkosi was previously in, allowed inmates to have laptops in their cells.

Kollapen cited Section 29 (1) of the Constitution, which says everyone has the right to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible. He also cited Section 35 (2) of the Constitution, which states that every detained person, including a sentenced prisoner, has the right to reading material which Kollapen said included electronic reading material.

The judgment read: “The court takes into consideration that study methods and accessibility of study material has changed considerably… Personal computers are certainly going to continue to play an increasingly important role as a means to access information which was in the past confined to textbooks.”

“Therefore access to a personal computer by students has become a necessity and not a privilege,” read the judgment.

He ordered that the inmates must have access to their laptops in their single cells, without access to a modem, as long as they are a registered student. He said the laptops would be made available for inspection at any time.

A refusal to allow inmates access to their laptops would risk compromising their ability to study and infringe on their right to further education, said Kollapen in his judgment.


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