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