“Those Prisoners Had to Feel Who Was Boss. And We Made Them Feel.”
I broke the story on a private prison in South Africa where guards inflicted horrendous abuse. But to really understand what happened, I had to talk to the torturers themselves.
Photos courtesy Ruth Hopkins
“Inmates were lying everywhere,” says Sipho Kumalo, a former member of the Emergency Security Team (EST) at Mangaung prison in Bloemfontein, South Africa. “Ninjas were all over the place, shocking, kicking, klapping.” On the inside, members of the EST – a squadron of guards in riot gear – are referred to as “Ninjas” because of their black uniforms. “Klapping” is an Afrikaans word for hitting or slapping.
“I saw blood on the floor,” Kumalo continues. “Those prisoners had to feel who was boss. And we made them feel. They were going to realize they could never do this again.”
The EST’s duties range from quelling gang fights, to putting out fires, to dealing with inmates who are perceived as being difficult, problematic, or too vocal. Whatever the context, Kumalo says, they know how to “sort out” a prisoner.
Kumalo – a 43-year-old father of two with low set eyes, full lips and round cheeks – speaks softly, sometimes halting mid-sentence as he searches for the righ…