Shanghala regrets not reforming prison conditions

Ester Mbathera

Former justice minister Sacky Shanghala says he doesn’t wish prison conditions on anyone.

He points out the inhumane conditions within the cells, including overcrowding, noise, fights, and illicit drug smuggling, which he says exacerbate health issues.

The trial awaiting Shanghala was reflecting on the harsh realities of prison life on Monday when he and his co-accused brought an urgent application to put on hold the transfer of some of them from C Sections to Echo Sections.

“Had I known, honestly, in the high position that I occupied before, I probably would have done something about it. It is not something that I’m wishing on anybody,” he said.

Shanghala provided a detailed account of the inhumane conditions he and other trial-awaiting offenders endure.

He also shed light on systemic issues within the Namibian prison system and raises important questions about the responsibilities of those in power.

In April, the Namibia Correctional Services (NCS) had plans to transfer Tamson Hatuikulipi, his cousin James Hatuikulipi, Ricardo Gustavo, Mike Nghipunya, Pius Mwatelulo, and Otniel Shuudifonya from C Section to Echo Section.

Former fisheries minister Bernhard Esau, former justice minister Sacky Shanghala, and former City Police officer Phillipus Mwapopi were to remain in the C Section because prison laws make provisions for their protection as former legislators and law enforcement officers.

Shanghala explained to the court that they were moved without their laptops to another section, where they would not have had enough time or furniture to prepare for their criminal case.

He said the 30 hours a month they are allowed to use the internet are not adequate.

“Just go into a room where there’s no one with a chair; there’s only a bed. What do you do? How do you sit and work? How do you read? The lamp is far away. Maybe you have two lamps, and the lumens of the light are not even enough. We’re not young people. We are nearly 50,” he said.

He also questioned the notion of ‘innocence until proven guilty’, arguing that he and others do not receive this treatment.

He accused officials of the NCS of abusing their power to move his co-accused to another section.

Shanghala also told the court that the conditions in prisons are so bad that Gustavo is in the hospital with a lung infection.

Shanghala urgently requested the court to protect their rights. He also pointed to the lack of satisfactory remedies available elsewhere.

The Fishrot accused have been in custody since 2019.

The six accused were moved to the Echo Section on 1 May where they are sharing a cell with other trial-awaiting offenders.

NCS officials explained that they still have access to computers, but only from 09h00 until 15h30 daily.

Access to their laptops at night was only a privilege in the C Section because they were in single cells and the light did not bother anyone.

When the plans to move them to Echo Cell were communicated, Deputy Commissioner Veikko Armas, the warden of the Windhoek correctional facility, said that the lives of the accused persons in the Fishrot case were in no danger.

“The security on the ground is calm and being monitored daily. We will not send people into units where we know that they will be harmed. We will not endanger people’s lives, and tomorrow we will have to answer questions,” he said.

Judgement in the matter has been reserved for 10 June.

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