South Africa: sounding the alarm

The country counts 150,000 prisoners. Among them, more than 2,700 are infected with the coronavirus.

Very early on, the civil society warned the government that the pandemic was likely to cross the prison gates - even before the first case was reported in prison. The response from the authorities was deemed insufficient, despite some degree of transparency from the penitentiary officials. On 8 May, the government agreed to liberate 19,000 incarcerated people in order to decongest prisons. Between a struggling administration, stigmatised and under-equipped personnel, and worried prisoners in confinement, civil society organisations are sounding the alarm.

Zia Wasserman has been the national coordinator at Sonke Gender Justice1 for several years. The organisation works towards the defense and the promotion of human rights, access to healthcare and rehabilitation processes. Prison Insider asked her three questions.

  1. Sonke Gender Justice is a South African NGO invested in numerous causes, such as defending human and children rights, gender equality, fighting against domestic and sexual violence, and the prevention of epidemics such as HIV/Aids. 

The prisons are generally very old and have not been redone in years, the water sometimes does not work, there is often no hot water

The numbers then kept going up, and up, and up and up

This is an important moment to show how prisons look like, to show the vulnerabilities that people have in prison.