By James Kilgore / Prison Legal News

In recent months a battle has erupted at Mangaung prison in South Africa. Mangaung, located near the city of Bloemfontein, is one of the country’s two privately-operated correctional facilities. Managed by British-based G4S, which bills itself as the “world’s largest security” company, Mangaung reflects a troubled criminal justice system littered with overcrowded, poorly resourced prisons. A September 2013 strike by guards from the Police and Prison Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) sparked the latest round of drama; the guards were protesting the dismissal of several shop stewards as well as poor working conditions. G4S responded by firing 300 prison staff.

In early October 2013, with the facility still reeling from the mass terminations, a female guard was held hostage for twelve hours. The next day another guard was stabbed. Speaking for G4S, company spokesman Andy Baker alleged that prisoners were being paid to destabilize Mangaung. “We assume it is linked to ongoing staffing strife,” he told the media, implying the union was behind the attacks.

At that point, Minister of Correctional Services Sbu Ndebele stepped in and placed Mangaung under the direct supervision of the state, essentially terminating G4S’s 25-year contract with the South African government signed in 2000. Ndebele claimed G4S management had lost “effective control over the prison.” The move reflected a broader rejection of private prisons by the South African government: Ndebele’s predecessor, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, had blocked the implementation of a bidding process for four more private prisons in 2011. As it presently stands, the country’s only privately-operated facility is Kutama Sinthumule in Limpopo province, co-owned by Kensani Corrections (Pty) Ltd. and the Florida-based GEO Group.

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