'Starved and assaulted'

Institutional neglect and police brutality have been alleged by the South African mother of an awaiting-trial prisoner.

06 February 2019 | Police

The police have denied allegations by awaiting-trial prisoners that they are being starved and assaulted in holding cells at the Windhoek police station.

A South African mother, whose 19-year-old son, Wesley Welgemoed, has been in custody at the police station for the last six months, wrote a desperate letter to NamRights in the middle of January in which she pleaded for intervention following these allegations.

Welgemoed was arrested by the drug-enforcement unit with three others on 19 July 2018, when drugs with a street value of N$200 000 were allegedly found in a house in Kleine Kuppe.

The three co-accused are Lee Jenkins (19), who is a British citizen residing in South Africa, Namibian national Buruxa Buru Butkus (30) and his German fiancé, Verena Salzmann (30).

Salzmann was granted bail of N$30 000, while Butkus was denied bail on the grounds that he might reoffend. The two South Africans remain in custody as they are feared to be a flight risk.

Mother's plea

Welgemoed's mother (name withheld), who is from Port Elizabeth, on 11 January claimed there had been “no food” for the inmates for a number of days. That was allegedly also the situation during November and December.

“It is totally unacceptable to have somebody detained and not feed them; it is inhumane!” the mother wrote. In other correspondence the mother wrote: “They're not even receiving bread, nothing.”

The mother's friend in Windhoek said they had to take food to the prisoners daily.

The friend, who prefers anonymity, claimed the awaiting-trial prisoners often only get porridge or a watered-down soup (when available), and sugar water.

At one point a police officer would throw the food brought in by the friend on the floor and demand the prisoners pick it from there; oftentimes, the food gets taken by other inmates, she claimed.

This source said during winter the prisoners did not have warm water or cleaning utensils or detergents to fight off cockroaches, and no toiletries.

What there seems to be plenty of, the family friend said, is marijuana.

“Drugs seem to be everywhere; the dagga fumes hang thick in the air when you go to the holding cells,” the source said.

The mother expressed worry that the situation in the cells was getting “too much” for her young son, who has been in prison for so long with “no structure, no programme, no councillors and no exercise”.

The family friend also said Welgemoed had complained about muscle cramps from inactivity, while Jenkins has thrice suffered from lung infections.

Jenkins has allegedly also been badly assaulted by fellow cellmates - who often include hardened criminals - and was not taken to hospital, while he had slipped “in and out of consciousness” after one of the assaults.

He is confirmed to be “better” now.

“We had to fight to get Lee to a hospital. Because he is white, one of the wardens remarked that 'Boers' do not die,” the source said.

This warden has reportedly been transferred from the holding cells to the charge office.

The source further claimed that the accused were assaulted when they were arrested in July.

She said while the two South Africans were doing forced push-ups, they were kicked between the legs. Guns were allegedly held against their heads.

It is alleged that Butkus was badly assaulted, presumably because he had tried to run away, and had to spend ten days in hospital.

Police denials

The Khomas regional crime investigations coordinator, Deputy Commissioner Abner Agas, on enquiry from NamRights said he had launched an investigation into the allegation that there is no food.

“Food is available for all inmates in the Khomas Region, including in the Windhoek police holding cells. Food was there in the past and it is still there for every inmate in our custody,” Agas concluded after his investigation.

A police spokesperson, Chief Inspector Kauna Shikwambi, concurred with Agas, saying there was no truth to the inmates' complaints.

“The police are doing everything possible to ensure that all awaiting-trial prisoners nationwide are fed as prescribed and in cases where there is a delay of delivery from, for example, suppliers, arrangements are made to ensure that the prisoners are fed,” Shikwambi said.

She said prisoners were fed in accordance with prescribed international feeding requirements.

This, she said, includes a variety of fruit, vegetables, dry rations, beef, chicken, pork and fish, “just to mention a few”.

Shikwambi said it is unfortunate that some inmates do not like the menu at the holding cells, but added that family members are allowed to take them food.

On the allegations of assault, Shikwambi said she was “reliably” informed that there was no report of assault by fellow inmates reported or registered. Inmates can report any charges of assault to the officers in charge, she said.

Not guilty plea

The four have pleaded not guilty to the drug charges, maintaining that no drugs were found on them at the time of their arrest in July last year.

According to court documents, the drugs found in the Kleine Kuppe home were only bagged and sealed by the police on 26 July. It is also alleged that the police had no search warrants and had not sought permission to enter the house or conduct a search on the night of the arrests.

The case against the four was postponed until 28 February, pending further investigation.


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