South African prisons are where monsters are made, McIntosh

Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela trended briefly on Twitter tonight for all the wrong reasons. At  6:09pm, he tweeted:

https://twitter.com/toshpolela/status/258238287012044800

The tweet was in reference to the Protea magistrate’s court finding Molemo “Jub Jub” Maarohanye and Themba Tshabalala guilty on four counts of murder and two of attempted murder, as well as a couple of other lesser charges, for mowing down six Soweto school kids—innocent bystanders in the pair’s drug and alcohol-fueled drag race that ended in an accident.

The court later denied the pair bail and sent them to jail where they’ll remain until sentenced in November. In jail, Jub Jub and Tshabalala stand a chance of being murdered, assaulted or raped, which Polela thought was particularly funny. He thought to mention that he hoped that those who supported Jub Jub also provided him with vaseline, you know, for lubrication for when he gets raped in prison. Haha. Get it? Raped! In prison! Because he deserves it!

Immediately he was called to order:

I joined in, too. Polela, however, quite unlike the award-winning government spokesperson he is, chose not to answer the criticism. Instead he corrected tweets that got the organ of state he represents wrong and those that attributed ANC membership to him:

And he ignored and blocked those who criticised him:

See what Polela fails to realise is that South African prisons are in a bad way, as Open Society Fellow Ilham Rawoot pointed out in an article published earlier this week. The article is based on a report compiled by the judicial inspectorate for correctional services.

“There were 47 unnatural deaths in prisons last year, which included 12 cases of murder, four of which were as a result of violence by warders on inmates,” Rawoot said. For 16 of the deaths, the correctional services department could not supply the cause of death as did not have the post-mortem reports.

Rawoot further cites Sonke Gender Justice Network’s Emily Keehn, who said, “The department is paying inmates out millions in damages for rape but it is not taking proactive measures to prevent it from occurring.”

If the murders, assaults and rapes don’t get you, the appalling health facilities will: “At least 32% of prisons do not have a doctor or nurse on the premises. The department blamed this on a lack of available medical personnel and 17 centres had not received a visit from a doctor in the last three months…804 prisoners had died ‘natural deaths’. Included in this figure are 110 inmates who died from tuberculosis (TB), 74 from HIV/Aids and 76 from pneumonia. Many prisoners will have contracted these diseases in prison,” according to Rawoot. This while the department of correctional services appears not to know exactly how many facilities it runs.

This may be revolutionary thought here, but our prisons should not be where we send people to be murdered, raped, assaulted or exposed to life-threatening diseases. Part of the mission of the department, which is derived from the Constitution, is the “correction of offending behaviour, the promotion of social responsibility and the overall development of the person under correction.”

We should not celebrate that the department is failing at this nor should we think it funny, particularly if you consider that after being socialised to the normlessness in prisons, parolled offenders are released and expected to re-integrate into society. In short, Polela, as the spokesperson for the SA police service’s elite Hawks unit, should know better.

The rules of Twitter are still hazy in parts, but in this case I feel justified in calling him out on it because he tweets personal and Hawks-related matters from the account.

My interest in this isn’t as a friend of Jub Jub, because I don’t know the guy, nor do I have a personal vendetta against Polela. I don’t know him either. I am interested in dialogue in public spaces and how it unfolds. Public spaces can either become echo chambers for ill-conceived notions, where the right-minded quietly disapprove, or they can be were ideas, thoughts and even jokes are challenged, transforming those engaged in dialogue and those who witness it, hopefully for the better. Yes, I’m a bit of a nerd like that.

Others tonight posted similar tweets and I am told such was quite popular when Shiren Dewani‘s extradition was confirmed. But the “papa wag vir jou” mentality shows a fundmental misunderstanding of what prisons are supposed to do and betrays an alarming belief that there are those who deserve to be raped. Nobody deserves that, not even Jub Jub and Tshabalala who killed four kids and forever left their mark the lives of two others and the families of everyone involved in this whole sorry tragedy.

__

Update: I changed slightly the title of this post. The original had an unintended double-meaning that diminished the subject of Polela’s award-winning memoir, My Father, My Monster.

Update 2: The Detainee Justice Forum, a grouping of civil society organisations, has issued a statement calling on Polela to withdraw his tweet. They caution Polela, as an admitted victim of violence, not to be seen to be condoning it. “And as a spokesman for the Hawks, a unit tasked with upholding the law and the Constitution of South Africa, it is inappropriate and disappointing for him to condone violent crime or make light of it, even on a personal Twitter account,” they said.

Update 3: Polela has apologised and withdrawn the tweet:

Just look at some of the initial responses, full of praise for Polela for admitting he was wrong:

https://twitter.com/IzyckJ/status/258838073742356480

And another calling for the cessation of hostilities:

Thus it ends. Has this really changed anything? I’m not sure. Earlier this year, department of international relations spokesman Clayson Monyela was also made to apologise and withdraw a tweet that seemed to legitimise prison rape. I can’t recall if it drew any public attention. Nonetheless I suspect that those who witnessed this shout-down of Polela won’t in future allow remarks condoning prison rape slip by unnoticed. What they do with it once they notice is a whole other matter.

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10 thoughts on “South African prisons are where monsters are made, McIntosh

  1. onkemetse says:

    There are only two words to describe that tweet “attention seeking”. All these people that are supposed to be leading this country don’t understand the difference between being controversial and being influential. As an aspiring politician, someone please save me I’m running out of role models.. 😦

  2. First off, McIntosh’s account clearly states his account is his and opinions on it are his and not the Hawks. Secondly is the guy not allowed to make a joke. Thirdly twitter is a public space and McIntosh has no obligation to answer you or even look at your tweet, so dont think you are entitled to a reply.

    Lastly, I agree that our prisons are in a bad way, but prisons have always been a hard place and even though they are meant for rehabilitation, they change people mostly not for the better. Believe me the prospect of anal rape is far more of a reason to be law abiding that sitting in a cell for some years.

  3. Yeap.. Part and parcel of the new South Africa for you. Sad when the people who should be solving the problem are the ones laughing about it… Its like being beat up at school and running to your teacher who laughs and says “relax, its just a beating” and does nothing to help.

  4. Thank you for writing this! I too was shocked at the statement the Hawks spokesman made, but more disturbed at the unapologetic manner in which he treated it. Think its generally reflective of public officials / people ‘tweeting’ absolute nonsense and covering it with the “my tweets, are my own” disclaimer.

    I too agree that rape jokes are never funny. Yes, we have freedom of expression, but that right too is limited. It’s not supposed to be exercised in a manner that’s degrading to others. Remember human dignity is also enshrined in our constitution!

    However with that said, I do feel as if the tone of your piece could have been more ‘serious’ especially for such a topic that has already been infused with indignant humour, I found sentences like “Yes, I’m a bit of a nerd like that” to deflate the important message in that: rape jokes are not acceptable in any form, be it by public officials or anyone. I don’t think any court in SA would find a joke about rape justified in any instance.

  5. Thabang says:

    Why all this commotion now? How many Men and Women had to endure all the hardships of abuse from wardens and prisoners? Why now all of a sudden when Jub Jub is going to be in prison then alarms go off?

    Well I do agree with both parties on this one, yes, rape or any sort of abuse is unacceptable regardless who you are! And now it does not mean that cause it’s Jub Jub, the star he must be treated like a prince in prison, No ways!

  6. Dithebe says:

    @Grant Nicol, so President Zuma is allowed to joke about gays, lesbians, cripples and orphans just cause he’d have published a disclaimer on social media that he aint doing that as President???

  7. Tshepo maphanga says:

    Polela, is trying 2tel us something abt wat is happening in prison (inmates) and dis issue he just raised abt jub jub having a vaselin…should nt b avoided, its obviouse dat prisons ar a purnishment place..wer criminals should b purnished, e.g marderd raped n physicaly beten.is dat wat prisons ar 4? Nah..bt 2keep criminal out of de community bcos of deir uneccepted bhaviour until dey hv lerned deir lesson..wat is de department of corectional servis say abt dis statement made by polela? Now we are awaire of wat is realy happening in prison cells. I think de ryt of equality is being violeted prisoners should also hv deir freedom of choice ..wer dey given de choice 2choose dat weather dey wanna stay alne or with dat or bunch of onther inmates in a cell dose cells should b rebuld 2also suit prisoners who wana stay alne remember a prison is a place wer a criminal who hv dan wrng is kept…until he or she finishes his judgement..de death ilnes, rapes etc.. Wouldnt hv bin accured if such rules wer adressd in prison..NB the department of corectinal service or the goverment should do something abt dis..

  8. anton fletsa says:

    Well said sir. In a true constitutional democracy, this employee of the state, paid by the taxpayer, would be looking for a job by the end of the week.

    • Afrodisiacjb says:

      I think it was negligent and stupid of Polela to say such statements in the public forum like this. If he wanted to make an official statement, he would be allowed. He is a professional and not just an ordinary citizen of South Africa.

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