Saziso Nkala spent five years and two months in prison, in squalor and degradation, awaiting trial for a crime she never committed. In 2006, Zimbabwean immigrant Saziso Nkala was arrested for robbery and sent to the Johannesburg Women’s Prison, or Sun City, to await trial. When arrested, she was a single mother with a seven-year-old son. In May 2011, after five years and two months, her case was thrown out of court for lack of evidence. At the age of 32, Nkala was unemployed, broke, without any compensation from the State, and struggling to make a life with a boy now 12 years and a stranger. When Saziso Nkala left Sun City, she carried the mark of prison, for, while inside, she had contracted tuberculosis. Innocent until proven guilty. Free.
For years, Saziso Nkala lived in a cell with 36 beds, and life was hard: “That side, if you are sick, they don’t care – especially if you’re a foreigner… one lady was dying in the cell. We called the warders, but they said they were busy having breakfast. Then she died. Inmates who die in the cell after lockdown are left with the other inmates in the cell until morning. If you start getting labour pains and the door is locked, it’s locked. You bang (on) the door for help – and if they eventually come – they only come to the window. They will not open till the following day…”
They will not open till the following day.
This week, the South African Parliament heard that the number of long-term remand prisoners, prisoners awaiting trial, is declining, as a result of new regulations implemented last year. That `improvement’ means that since last year the number of remand prisoners who had been behind bars for two years or longer dropped from 2200 to 1816. While that is a reduction, it means that 1816 people, innocent until proven guilty, have been imprisoned for two years or longer. According to the Department of Correctional Services, as of Tuesday, of 157,394 prisoners, 43,735, or 27.8 percent, are remand prisoners.
Despite reports of `improved conditions’ in South Africa’s prison system, the situation remains grim, according to The State of South African Prisons, a report released this week by the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders, or NICRO. This report considers only sentenced prisoners.
According to NICRO, South Africa’s prisons’ maximum capacity is 118,154 people. Of that, 25,000 places are held for remand prisoners. The total prison population is 162,162. When NICRO finished its study, 49,695, or 31%, were remand, and 112 467 were sentenced prisoners. That means a national level of overcrowding reaching 137%. It also means that remand prisoner overcrowding was at 200%. Today, remand prisoner overcrowding is at 175%.
Women make up 2% of the sentenced prison population. 45% of sentenced women prisoners have committed `economical crimes’. For men, it’s 22%. 10% of sentenced women prisoners are in for `narcotics’ offenses, while for men, it’s 2%. Proportionally, more women prisoners are awaiting trial than are men prisoners. Most `economic crimes’ are survival crimes. How many women awaiting trial are in for the crime of being poor? How many are remanded because they cannot afford bail? How many are Saziso Nkala? For too many women, innocent until proven guilty has become guilty until you can show a receipt. Who will compensate for that bill?