South Africa is known to host some of the most notorious gangs in the world; from the Numbers Gangs in Cape Town to the Foster Gang in Johannesburg…

With crime at an all-time high in South Africa, we explore correctional facilities that were created to institutionalise these criminals.

Here are 9 of the most notorious prisons in South Africa:

9. Goodwood Correctional Centre- Cape Town

The main purpose of the correctional centre was to accommodate awaiting trial detainees, but due to overcrowding in prisons such as Pollsmoor, Helderstroom etc. many of the inmates had to be moved to make space for the more “dangerous” inmates.

Goodwood Prison is known to being one of the Centres of Excellence, for “saving” prisoners by running various programs and projects such as the Sexual Offenders Programs, Orientation Programs, Life Skills Programs and AA Programs.

But, due to the high crime rate in Cape Town alone; Goodwood Correctional Centre has become home to many high-risk inmates as well as overcrowding of inmates makes for a very dangerous environment, with petty criminals being housed in the same cells as high-risk inmates.

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8. Boksburg Correctional Centre- Johannesburg

The conditions at Boksburg is far from great but at least they don’t deal with overcrowding.

Some of the main issues at Boksburg prison according to GroundUP includes:

Unhygienic preparation of food by inmates with no training in this field, which is affecting the health of those with medical conditions.

Shortage of vital foods and nutrients due to “poor planning and corruption”.

Sick inmates being given expired medication.

Inmates being given medicines marked for other prisoners.

Medicines prescribed by prison doctors are being delivered weeks late.

Untrained and unqualified inmates being used as pharmacy assistants.

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7. Drakenstein Medium B Prison- Paarl

Formerly known as Victor Verster Prison. Also known as Nelson Mandela’s last “prison home”.

On the way to the second Vineyards we made a quick stop at the Drakenstein Prison to look at the the Long Walk to Freedom Statue which stands at the entrance. The 3.2m statue is made of bronze, weighs 460kg and was donated by the Sexwale Family Foundation in the year 2008 to honour Mandela who was released from this prison in 1990. ———————————————————- “The Sexwale Family Foundation has comissioned this Long Walk to Freedom Statue in honour of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela together with all those who walked before. Alongside and for him in quest for a united non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and free South Africa as part of the international struggle for human solidarity against all forms of oppression and exploitation.” ———————————————————- #longwalktofreedom #nelsonmandela #mandela #drakensteinprison #apartheid #southafrica #mytravelgram #travelgram #travelgram #travelpics #exploring #travelblog #travelgo #traveladdict #insta_global #wanderlust #travelawesome #instatravel #worldtravelpics #exploringtheworld #instavacation #ig_southafrica #meetsouthafrica #thisissouthafrica #visitsouthafrica #tourist #theglobewanderer #westerncape #southafricaza

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It’s a “working prison” situated in Paarl. Even though it’s surrounded by mountains and vineyards; the prison is rife with violence and it detains some of the most dangerous gang members in the Cape.

More notably the Numbers Gangs – the 26s, 27s and 28s (Cape Town’s most dangerous gangs). The Numbers Gang/ the Numbers Gangs (associated with different numbers in different prisons) is a prison gang with one of the most fearsome reputations in South Africa.

They are known to operate primarily in the Western Cape prison of Pollsmoor, however, it is thought that they control most of the South African prisons. All potential gang members undergo initiation rites in order to get their *nomer (the number ranking a gang member would receive to determine their status).


Source: Lee-Ann Olwage


The Numbers Gangs have their own parliament, a legal system, punishment, territories and economy.

The 26s, for example, have a Makwezi (president), generals, captains, sergeant-majors, lawyers, doctors, inspectors, teachers and soldiers according to Don Pinnock in his book Gang Town.

Police gang expert Jeremy Vearey lists the six laws of the 26s as:

1. You will not do what you want.

2. You will not lie to your brother or argue with him.

3. You will inspect the honest work of police and wardens.

4. You will not sleep under the same blanket as your brother (no sex).

5. You will not physically harm a non-prison gang member the first time he offends you, and first, give him two warnings before harming him.

6. You will die with your brother under the flag of 
the 26s.

6. Leeuwkop Max C Prison- Pretoria

The division is specifically designed for violent and disruptive prisoners who have been classified as dangerous in terms of the South African Criminal Procedure Act.

Prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours of each day and specialised equipment, such as electric shields, are used by the prison guards.

The prison consists of two rows of fifty cells each.

In 2003, Chad Mills said it cost R50 to bribe a prison warder to enjoy sex sessions – and sometimes “foursomes” – in jail with his mistress.

Mills, serving a 27-year jail term in Leeuwkop prison testified before the Jali Commission, which was probing corruption in South Africa’s prisons.

He said warder Frank Scheurn, who took the bribes, was later fired for allowing a prisoner to escape and was then replaced by Thulani Sithole, who allowed him to continue his conjugal liaisons.

Mills said that after being transferred to Leeuwkop prison, he heard he could have sex in jail on condition he befriended Scheurn.

Scheurn allowed him to sleep with his mistress on four occasions between August and December 1997.

5. Helderstroom Prison- Caledon

Known for intense initiation by higher-ranking inmates and tales of torture; Helderstroom Prison is known for its violent attacks on not just prison officials but prisoners themselves.

Violent situations within the prison force many inmates to eventually commit suicide.

News24 reported that two inmates at Helderstroom Prison in Caledon, who were held in solitary confinement, committed suicide within three months of each other in 2017.

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4. Leeuhof Prison- Gauteng

Inmate and fraud accused Eugene Viljoen revealed the dark and horrendous secrets of the Leeuhof Prison in a string of SMSes sent out to City Press in 2014, after he got cellphones smuggled in for himself.

The SMSes revealed the corruption that takes place in this prison. Also how he and his cellmates managed to smuggle in large quantities of drugs to the prison.

He reveals the rapes, initiations, drug use and warden bribery that regularly took place within the prison.

3. Grootvlei Prison- Bloemfontein

The same issues of corruption happening in prisons around SA are evident as well in this prison as stated by a former prisoner, Gayton McKenzie.

He speaks of drugs and alcohol distribution by the wardens to inmates and in 2007, a film has been produced to showcase how corrupt the prison system is.

McKenzie says, “The film will sketch how I led one of the biggest prison exposés in the world. I caught warders on film supplying drugs and alcohol to inmates, pimping young inmates to older prisoners, and even their giving prisoners a loaded pistol to use in an escape.”

“I decided to expose their filthy dealings after witnessing the brutal rape of a 14-year-old white prisoner. That’s when I decided I had enough of the world of crime and corruption.”

In 2003, six inmates of the Grootvlei prison brought an urgent application in the Bloemfontein High Court, asking the court to order the immediate return of a number of electrical appliances and telephone cards that were confiscated from their cells in a raid by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

The raid took place shortly after the arrest of Grootvlei prison head Tatolo Setlai for allegedly receiving bribes from prisoners in exchange for preferential treatment.

The six prisoners, who represented themselves in court alleged that the raid was illegal and that they did have permission from prison authorities to keep the appliances and phone cards in their cells.

2. eBongweni C-Max Prison- KwaZulu Natal

Known as the highest maximum security prison in South Africa; with wardens stationed at every corner, steel doors, ten electronically and CCTV monitored doors to go through before you enter or exit the prison – it makes it near impossible for someone to escape.

In 2013, notorious Ananias Mathe tried to escape the maximum security facility.

KwaZulu-Natal’s correctional services boss has put his head on the block – promising to resign if any inmate were to escape from the country’s most secure prison.

KZN regional Correctional Services commissioner Mnikelwa Nxele in 2013 said there was no way that any prisoner could escape because of the way the C-Max prison had been designed.

Serial rapist, and multiple escapee, Ananias Mathe, tried to get through the wall of his cell at Ebongweni Prison in Kokstad but was thwarted when a guard saw him chipping away.

The prison is home to 906 of the most hardened criminals. Mathe is ranked as the 46th most high-risk offender at the facility.

But he only got as far as making a 33cm cut in the wall, with a few “test” holes, before wardens caught on to his escape plot.

And the most notorious of them all…

1. Pollsmoor Prison- Cape Town

Prisoners live in overcrowded cells in Pollsmoor Prison. Some inmates have been awaiting trial for eight years.

Picture: Brenton Geach

Known as one of the most dangerous prisons in the world; with the Numbers Gang basically running the prison and diseases spreading easily due to overcrowding, is just one of the many problems this prison faces.

Over 8 900 inmates are squashed into a facility built to accommodate 3 900. Prison officials told the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services delegation in 2016 that some prisoners have been awaiting trial for as long as eight years.

“We have three at Khayelitsha (Magistrate’s Court), we have one at Blue Downs and we have two at Wynberg that have been incarcerated for more than eight years,” said one official.

Those arrested and transferred to Pollsmoor start off life inside the prison walls at one of four special caged pens.

Shown around the remand facility’s laundry room, the DA’s George Michalakis questioned the frequency with which prison blankets were washed.

One of the machines broke down months ago and a replacement part has still to be imported.

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At Pollsmoor’s female section, the visiting politicians and department officials were told that there were 692 inmates, 341 awaiting trial with only 392 beds between all those behind bars.

Many females either end up sleeping on the floor or next to a fellow prisoner.

Michalakis said the delegation visit to Pollsmoor was extremely shocking.

He said instead of arresting people and dispatching them to Pollsmoor, police had to work on their crime prevention strategies.

Five Pollsmoor inmates nabbed

Five of six prisoners who escaped from Pollsmoor Prison were rearrested on the 12th of March 2018 after a manhunt was launched on Monday.

The escapees, Mirvan Witbooi, Emile Lindinders, Courtline Oliver, Siphenathi Ntantiso, Curtley None and Gershwin Mol, used a metal object they took from one of their beds to bend their cell’s burglar bars on Sunday night.

Ntantiso was yet to be caught.

The six men escaped from Pollsmoor Prison Medium B prison unit, Department of Correctional Services spokesperson Simphiwe Xako said. Their ages range from 21 to 25 years.

The men have been serving sentences at the prison for crimes, including attempted murder, housebreaking and rape, fled after removing bars with a metal pole.

Correctional Services provincial commissioner Delekile Klaas said the men bent their cell’s burglar bars, broke a window and jumped from the back of the prison’s backyard. Prison officials discovered the escape an hour later before calling for back-up. For the 139 offenders detained at B5 unit, there was only one official on duty, said Klaas.

He said in the cell in question there were 26 offenders.

“The incident happened at night and few of our officials were on duty. But because it was at night and dark, that could be one of the reasons they could not be detected,” he said.

Cases of escaping from custody were reported at Kirstenbosch police station.

The fence where the prisoners jumped was “not electrified”.

“This is a new fence that has just been installed,” said Klaas.

He said the escapees used maximum force to break the burglar bars and the window. Some of the offenders were due to be released in May, another was serving 514 days for breaking his parole, another one was serving 12 years for housebreaking and attempted murder while another one was serving four years for rape, said Klaas.

“These offenders apparently threatened other offenders in the cell not to make a noise and not indicate they are breaking a window,” Klaas said.

“We view what they have done in a very serious light and we are of the view that they are dangerous, the fact that they escaped” he said.

He said the prison’s Emergency Support Team and the police were searching for the escapee. Members of the public were urged not to approach him but rather to contact the nearest police station.

– TYI/ Sandiso Phaliso/ IOL/ Cape Times

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