By Vuyolwethu Mqaba
Vuyo Mqaba, a Black First Land First (BLF) member and one of the 26 BLF members who were arrested when the organisation protested at the offices of the public protector pens a detailed five-part series documenting their time at the Kgosi Mampuru II maximum security prison. Read Part 1 here. Part 2 is called: Madala Stocksin’s Cell.
Madala Stocksin’s Cell:
While entering our prison cell for the first night at the Kgosi Mampuru II maximum security prison, an old man by the name of ‘’Madala Stocksin’’ welcomed us. I think his name roughly translated to “old man in prison”. Madala told us the ground rules. Firstly, he told us to not steal from anyone as the person you steal from might potentially murder you. Secondly, he told us to never give our prison cards to other inmates as that would cause a problem whereby someone else would get bail instead of you. He added that in a place of that nature one required a sort of “scientific trust”. We wrestled with the meaning of that term until we left that place. Lastly, Madala told us that if we needed blankets we would have to buy them.
As the reality of being in prison was beginning to steadily sink in, the old man dropped a bomb on us. He told us to shower before we go to sleep. We looked at each other in horror. We were clear, we would unleash unspeakable fury on anyone who touched us. We played along to avoid a situation of unnecessarily coming across as trouble makers. We decided to shower while the perverted old man kept his distance. We went back to the cell and Andile Mngxitama devised a plan to get blankets for the night. Even to this day I can’t tell you how he did it, but we received the blankets.
We decided to combine our prison beds and we slept as a group. We kept together most of the time. I shared a blanket with Xolani, Sibeko, Michael and Thabang, while the rest shared among themselves and Andile. I could see that Sibeko was thinking about his younger brother in the juvenile section. The comrade was in a contemplative mood and I wanted to comfort him, but I was also an emotional-wreck myself. It wasn’t prison that worried me most, I knew we were arrested for something just. I started thinking about my parents. How they constantly made sure that I go to church, how they wanted me to be educated and be a shining example in society. Now the news of their last-born being arrested was going to destroy them. What was going to destroy them further was that I was in a maximum-security facility which was not only notorious in South Africa but the whole continent at large for hanging apartheid activists and revolutionaries at large. I thought about comrade Olwethu Rasman who was arrested along with us. We both came from the Eastern Cape. I was worried about how all of them were doing in the juvenile section. I thought about Comrade Yerushka Chetty who was alone in the female section of the prison.
While I was busy collapsing under the weight of my own thoughts, some Rwandan guy showed up asking for “the writer”. It was clear he was looking for Andile. We all raised our heads in anticipation, then Andile stood up and walked towards the forbidden section of the cell. He sat with the man and they discussed politics for a long time. We kept a close eye on them.
While Andile was away, Sibeko took the opportunity to table his master plan. He said we would have to move to Lesotho for temporary political asylum. From Lesotho we would move to Botswana, then upwards to other African countries. This was grim but exciting. Sibeko was talking about exile. While the exile talk was gaining momentum, Comrade Zikalala called us for a smoke. While we smoked, Zikalala immediately kickstarted a political class and other inmates joined us. They were very receptive. When we went back to the cell, we found Andile reading the book he co-wrote: Biko Lives!: Contesting the Legacies of Steve Biko.
Comrade Xolani Kheswa a.k.a Jovis started talking about how pointless it would be for us to continue stressing about a situation that we have no control over. These are words that even Andile would come to re-iterate now and then in order to strengthen us. Without a doubt, Xolani played a massive role in strengthening me in that place.
The section we were held in was quiet compared to the other sections, but we could hear prison language being spoken throughout the night. As the night grew nearer to the end, we began to once again ponder about the further divisions that would possibly take place the following day. But once again it seemed that that was beyond our control. Suddenly we all kept quiet. I dozed off.
I was rudely brought back from my deep sleep by an aggressive bang of the prison bars. It was the guards, I realized that it was morning and they were busy shouting “Fola! Fola! Fola!” We woke up in slow motion – tired and bitter. As I slowly emerged from the cell, I saw Ncedisa, Lindsay, Laden, Tshidiso, James and Zwelakhe. They were still in one peace. Relief! Lindsay folded his fist as a gesture of unity, I will never forget that. I realized that at that point we were no longer just comrades. We transcended to an almost formidable brotherhood.
We went through the daunting routine of being counted and we went back to the cells for another quick nap. We woke up and we were told that we will be moved to another cell during the day. We were told we would be tested for HIV and AIDS and TB, then we would wait for our results in that cell. It became clear that after this cell, we would be thrown into the general population of the prison. We were given brushes so that we can help clean the prison corridors along with other prisoners.
We then dived into the allocated task. After we were done cleaning the corridors we were put in an adjacent cell to our previous one. The reason for this was because they were still cleaning Madala Stocksin’s cell. I must say, the new cell looked very grim. The whole cell resembled some sort of a medieval-dungeon. Dark and dirty. The toilet section looked radioactive and toxic. The conditions were appalling. We later realized that the cell was plagued with mad inmates. We stood by the door and suddenly some guy who happened to be the kingpin of that cell started swearing at us, saying we are disrespecting him. His entourage followed his lead like mindless termites. He told us to back the fuck of the door. Somehow, I wasn’t worried even for a little bit. You see, in my calculations half of that cell had mad people who would find it hard to pull out a coordinated attack on us. While we, on the other hand, had all our faculties intact. In the midst of the chaos, an inmate approached us and told us about how sophisticated our mode of expression was – we immediately dismissed him and told the rag to keep walking. I remember that moment very vividly. It was myself, Ncedisa and Lindsay. We further told him to mind his own business. The reason for such hostility was as clear as the blue sky. We could not afford a situation whereby we would be viewed as those with Victorian accents and an elitist mentality in a place that is dominated by the have-nots.
We were told to pack our things and depart for the next cell again. We moved from the section which was close to the prison administration, which was relatively quiet and peaceful compared to the prison blocks we would find ourselves in later. We were taken to the area that we would be tested in. When we arrived, I must say the view was serene and blissful for those couple of moments. Young ladies were conducting the HIV tests and I told myself right there and then that I would flirt blissfully with them. When it was my turn, I walked up to them with my prison swag which I had made up in my head to make myself feel better. My turn came, and the lady told me to seat and roll up my sleeves. I did exactly that and all the while her eyes were glued to my prison card as if she saw some sort of irregularity. I thought this was my chance to break the ice with the lady. Before I could say anything she suddenly exclaimed, “I know you!” I responded in shock, “who? Me?” She said, “Yes, you! You are the students who kidnapped Advocate Thuli Madonsela”. She told me that we didn’t look as bad as the media portrayed us. I told her the full story and we chatted briefly about it.
We went to the second cell to await our results and at this point we were all wondering about two things: 1) How are we going to be divided this time and 2) What scoundrels await us in this other cell.