South Africa: Prisons and Detention Conditions, 2004



In making the recommendations that follow, the Special Rapporteur is mindful of the fact that resources, both human and financial are limited and that the various demands on the 

fiscals need to be prioritised and balanced. These recommendations are made against the backdrop of the delicate balance the Government has to make between respect for human 

rights and the provision of social services in a country that has endured social injustices for decades. At the same time and importantly the rights enshrined in the Constitution of the 

Republic of South Africa and other regional  and international instruments to which South Africa adheres must become real and meaningful for all South Africans. In the context of 

prisoners it must include “the right to conditions of detention that are consistent with human dignity…”  

The recommendations have been broken into  different sections indicating the role each sector of society can and should play in enhancing the protection of the rights of persons 

deprived of their liberty. However, the African Commission urges cooperation between the different sectors of society to ensure proper implementation of the recommendations. 

I. To Government 

There is a general expression of good  political will in government, at both national and local level, to improve the conditions of persons deprived of their liberty. This is manifested in the development of positive policies and engagement with civil society organisations promoting the welfare of prisoners. 


II. To civil society 

Members of civil society, especially  NGOs should constantly visit prisons and other places of detention to ensure that the government is meeting its domestic as well as international human rights obligations towards persons deprived of their liberty: encourage and organise  retreats and workshops for prison officials and inform them of best practices in other penal systems in Africa and around the world; support the efforts of government by assisting in promoting the welfare of prisoners. 

III. To prison authorities

Prison officials should be more involved in monitoring the welfare of prisoners and desist from sponsoring one gang against the other. Heads of prison should develop strategies to combat corruption by prison officials. To this end, complaints boxes should be posted outside each cell where prisoners can submit confidential complaints. The key to these boxes shall be with the Heads of the Institutions or someone duly designated by them. All complaints must be treated in confidence (...); 


IV. To donors and the international community 

The donor and international community should continue their support to the prison sector in South Africa. Emphasis should be placed on staff training, curriculum development and the establishment of programmes that would emphasise prisoners’ rehabilitation and reintegration into society (...);

V) To the African Union 

a) The Commission of the African Union should collaborate with members of the Southern African Development Community to explore the possibility of prisoner exchange. To this end, the African Union should organise in collaboration with SADC a meeting of SADC Ministers of Corrections: and should make prisons and conditions of detention an important indicator in the peer review process of the NEPAD.