Prisoners serving long sentences in the Windhoek Correctional Facility say they receive poor food at the jail and that rehabilitation activities are sorely lacking.
New Era last week Thursday listened to convicted murderers and a rapist airing their grievances about the prison, all saying they were “suffering”.
“We don’t get toiletries, only toilet paper sometimes. But at the end of the day they want us to be clean. Where will those things come from if we are in prison?” queried Gavin Beukes who was sentenced to 84 years in prison for the murder of eight people at farm Kareeboomvloer, situated between Rehoboth and Kalkrand.
The 34-year-old biological father of three children added that prisoners even struggle to get prison uniforms and shoes.
“We get shoe polish but we don’t have shoes. There are many people who have families but the families do not visit them so those people are without shoes,” said Beukes.
Fanuel Festus Shipanga, who is serving a 46-year sentence, said he was one of the few privileged prisoners. He revealed that he financially depends on his war veteran’s pension to survive. His family is also supportive and pays him regular visits.
“There are people who don’t have anybody to visit them here,” the 47-year-old Shipanga adds.
He said that prison warders do not always use friendly language when talking to offenders.
“We are told that we will die in prison. Imagine what that does to us?” the father of five said.
He added that rehabilitation programmes appear to target mainly offenders serving relatively short sentences.
“We at unit 7 (maximum security) do not do anything. Why can’t they give us work even just to repair things? If you go behind Katutura hospital there are many broken beds. They can bring those beds here for us to repair. At least we won’t think a lot. We need to work, I am getting old and there is no hope of being released anytime soon so I must work while I’m here,” said the slightly built Shipanga.
Furthermore, they are not happy with the food.
“I am not lying to you. All I eat here is five slices of bread. The pap (porridge) and soup do not have taste. The food is normally not well prepared. We really suffer,” added the vocal Shipanga. “For 90 years I will just eat pap,” Ralph Mzuvukile Mtshibe, a convicted rapist, commented sarcastically.
Mtshibe added: “All we do is eat and sit in the sun.”
Beukes suggested that prisoners who have learnt wood carving in prison should be allowed to sell their artwork to the outside world.
The finances, he said, could be used to support their families.
“Some of our children stay with people who can’t afford to take care of them. At least we should be allowed to sell our things so that our children can say, ‘My father is in prison but he is supporting me’,” Beukes, who has mastered the woodcarving trade during his ten years and eight months stay in prison, says.
Commenting on the prisoners’ complaints, Raphael Tuhafeni Hamunyela, Commissioner-General of the Namibian Correctional Service, explained that the food is prepared by inmates with the supervision of prison officials as there are no “special cooks”.
“Whether it’s well cooked or not I don’t know. I can authorise you to go and taste the food,” Hamunyela told this reporter.
He added that the offenders use big pots to prepare large meals and as a result “it cannot always be thick porridge”.
Hamunyela explained that offenders are recruited to do some chores as part of the rehabilitation process.
Furthermore, he admitted that the rehabilitation programmes do not currently cater for long-term offenders. But, Hamunyela said, the correctional service is in negotiations with the Canadian government to formulate programmes for long-term offenders.
A pilot study will be effected as soon as possible, Hamunyela added.
He admitted there are delays with uniforms. This, he noted, is a result of companies that were contracted to make the uniforms not delivering as per contractual agreement.