G4S in last-ditch bid to keep Mangaung Prison contract

Employees uncertain if they will still have jobs at the prison where Thabo Bester escaped

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Bloemfontein Correctional Contracts has made a last-ditch attempt to prevent the Department of Correctional Services from taking over the Mangaung Correctional Centre, where the Facebook rapist Thabo Bester escaped. Archive photo: Becker Semela

  • In May the Department of Correctional Services issued a termination notice indicating that it wants to take over the prison within 90 days.
  • The 90-day notice ends on Monday 31 July.
  • Workers at the prison say they are unaware of whether they will still have jobs next week
  • The Department of Correctional Services says it will enter into a mediation process with BCC.

As Bloemfontein Correctional Contracts (BCC) makes a last-ditch attempt to prevent the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) from taking over the Mangaung Correctional Centre, staff at the prison say they have been left in the dark about the future of their jobs.

BCC owns Mangaung Correctional Centre, the maximum security prison from which Thabo Bester escaped. Multinational security company G4S owns 20% of BCC and is the main subcontractor in charge of operating the prison. G4S has run the prison since 2001.

The contract between DCS and BCC was originally supposed to end in 2026, but in May DCS issued BCC with a 90-day termination notice, indicating that it would take over the prison at the end of July.

On Wednesday, less than a week before the end of the 90-day notice period, BCC formally challenged the termination.

The Department of Correctional Services confirmed on Thursday that it will enter into a mediation process with BCC. The mediation process will last until the end of August. If the dispute is not resolved by then, the parties will go to court.

Workers left in the dark

GroundUp spoke to several employees at the Mangaung Correctional Centre who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being victimised.

One of them has been working at Mangaung Prison for three years and said the week after Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola announced the cancellation of the contract, the workers started asking G4S questions about their employment.

Both he and his wife are employed by G4S and they support three children and a grandmother. He said he is paid R17,000 a month before deductions.

He said the uncertainty has left him with severe anxiety, making it difficult to concentrate on work. He said the high unemployment rate in the country was scary.

“Most of the people, if not all of us, just feel like, why can’t DCS take over? When you wake up with these uncertainties it’s nerve-wracking because you wake up wondering what is going to happen today,” he said.

Another employee, who has worked for G4S at Mangaung prison for nearly a decade, said he was worried that they would not get paid out overtime, leave days owed and bonus, and worried about what will become of the provident fund. He supports his wife and four children.

“The last time we got feedback from Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) was on 31 May, and they just said they are going to be in discussion with G4S and DCS … Nobody has come back to us or reached out to us saying we’re going to have a job at the end of the month. Everyone is just quiet,” he said.

“We still have contracts with G4S and pay POPCRU every month but they haven’t said anything to us,” he said.

He said that around 500 workers will be affected.

An employee at the prison for four years said workers are frustrated, but fear that they may lose their jobs if they speak out.

“At our age, it is difficult to get a job. It’s very stressful. I struggle to sleep at night because of this situation. That’s how these people are treating us,” he said.

POPCRU spokesperson Richard Mamabolo said they are aware that BCC had appealed the DCS cancellation, and they are awaiting the outcome of the appeal before commenting.

G4S said they are unable to comment on the matter due to confidentiality clauses in their contract.

BCC did not respond to our requests for comment.

TOPICS:  Prisons Thabo Bester prison escape

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