Maputo — The Mozambican prison services on Wednesday categorically denied a story carried by the South African newspaper, the "Sunday Times", that South African women prisoners, jailed in Mozambique for drug trafficking, have been used by prison officials as "sex slaves".
At a Maputo press conference, Samo Paulo Goncalves, the head of operations of the National Prison Service (SERNAP), said that neither the prisoners themselves, nor the South African High Commission in Maputo, which has been in regular contact with the women for consular purposes, have complained of any such abuses to the Mozambican authorities.
The "Sunday Times" claimed that prison guards had demanded sex from some of the jailed women in exchange for food and toiletries. The paper claimed that one of the women died in 2012 after she had been denied adequate medical treatment.
It said that conditions in the prison were inhuman with the women surviving on a diet of "rotten beans and fish".
Goncalves said there are 14 South African women currently held in Mozambican jails. They were all arrested at Maputo International Airport on various occasions over several years, and found to be carrying cocaine in their luggage or in their stomachs.
In general, convicted prisoners serve their sentence at the Ndlavela women's prison in the southern city of Matola, while those awaiting trial are held in the women's section of the Civil Prison in central Maputo.
Goncalves said there was no discrimination between foreigners and Mozambican prisoners. "All receive the same treatment, and have the same rights", he stressed.
The only discrimination was on grounds of gender. Because there are fewer women than men in jail, the prisoners in women's jails enjoy more space and have better food. Goncalves said the women prisoners receive at least two meals a day.
Furthermore, all the guards and other full time staff at Ndlavela are women.
Male employees only enter the prison for specific, specialist tasks.
Since the Mozambican authorities had received no denunciations of the abuses alleged by the "Sunday Times", SERNAP regarded the charges as without foundation. Goncalves stressed that prison guards know that if they are caught abusing prisoners they face immediate expulsion from the prison service and criminal proceedings.
If SERNAP did receive a denunciation of abuses, "we are willing to investigate, and any guard involved can be certain that he will be expelled, charged and brought to trial".
Goncalves confirmed that one of the prisoners, 26 year old Andiswa Maucotywa, had died of AIDS in August 2011. He said that she had been receiving Anti-Retroviral Treatment in South Africa, but did not tell the Mozambican authorities this when she was arrested.
When she fell ill in prison, after her trial, she was diagnosed as HIV-positive, and was put back onto anti-retroviral drugs. Through SERNAP's contacts with the South African correctional services, her family was located, and relatives came to visit her in prison.
When she died, in the Jose Macamo Hospital in Matola, her body was handed over to the family, who took her back to South Africa for burial. "She received all available medical care", said Goncalves.
Some of the women were pregnant at the time of their arrest, and gave birth while imprisoned. In these cases, the Mozambican minors' Tribunal decides whether the baby should stay with the jailed mother, or be cared for by other relatives.
One of the South Africans, Ouma Maleke, gave birth to a son in July 2012. He remained with his mother, but SERNAP says it received a request from the South African High Commission in October 2013, asking whether the child could be taken to South Africa. This will happen if the mother agrees and the Minors' Tribunal decides that the transfer is in the child's best interests.
SERNAP admits that one prisoner, Thandeka Radebe, was not released at the end of her sentence in September, because she had not paid the fine of 30,000 meticais (slightly less than 1,000 US dollars at current exchange rates) which was also part of her sentence. The court than converted the fin into an additional one year and six months imprisoned, so that she will not be released until 2015.
The claim in the report that she was not freed because she could not pay a bribe of 10,000 rands (the rough equivalent of 30,000 meticais in the South African currency) to the prison guards "is completely false", Goncalves said.
"The prisoner knows that she was sentenced to a fine of 30,000 meticais, which is to be paid to the court and not to the guards".
As for the case of a woman held in solitary confinement, Nosipto Ikegnagu, SERNAP said she was put into a disciplinary cell for 30 days because she tried to escape. Her case has not yet come to trial, but a court has validated her continued preventive detention. She is pregnant, and SERNAP says she receives regular ante-natal visits from the health services.
Three other prisoners, a South African and two Zambian women, did escape, and SERNAP says that six prison guards who facilitated the escape face expulsion from the service.
The claim that a prisoner named Adelaide Nxele was placed under house arrest was untrue, said Goncalves, because there is no such penalty as house arrest under the Mozambican legal system. What happened was that she was granted bail while her case goes to appeal, and she is enjoying provisional freedom while awaiting the decision of the appeals court.