Johannesburg – Managers at the prison where intimate photos of a prisoner posing with a female warder recently emerged allegedly knew about the affair since early this year and tried to separate the couple.
This new information came from interviews The Star conducted with sources at Losperfontein Correctional Centre in Brits, North West, following the circulation of the pictures on social media last week.
In the photos, married warder Lerato Rammego and an inmate known as Dave Hlungwani could be seen embracing and passionately kissing.
Rammego committed suicide at the warders’ residence the same day the pictures started trending online.
The Star has established that the photos were found during a cell search on Sunday, a day before they were leaked. Two cellphones were found in Hlungwani’s communal cell. He is said to be serving a 14-year sentence for rape and was due to be released in a few months, but the department did not confirm this. It’s believed that a warder who leaked the photos has been identified.
“Those pictures were leaked to the public by warders who are on the side of another female warder who was in conflict with Rammego. There was a power struggle between the two women.
“They used the photos to get back at Rammego because she was occupying a more senior position to them. Rammego was always in conflict with her colleagues because they undermined her authority,” said the source.
This method of creating a sex scandal was believed to have been used at Johannesburg Central Prison in June, when alleged vengeful warders strategically took photos of professional dancers during an official event at the centre. The pictures were framed in a way to make the performers look like “strippers” and excluded male dancers in an alleged attempt to bring the centre into disrepute and settle scores against its head.
The Star has been reliably told the report into this incident is complete but is yet to be made public. Gauteng Correctional Services Department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo, however, dismissed this.
“The department will only make an official comment once the matter is finalised,” he said on Monday.
The Losperfontein photos are believed to have been taken in the computer room, which Hlungwani also used as he was a Unisa correspondent student studying towards a law qualification. He has since been relocated to another centre in Rustenburg, but was seen back at Losperfontein on Wednesday to write exams.
The two allegedly started their affair early this year. The prison managers became suspicious about it two months ago. At the time, Hlungwani worked as a cleaner at the offices near the prison entrance, while Rammego was part of the team responsible for access control there. Rammego’s husband also works as a warder at the same prison.
“Her husband and the managers knew about the affair but she kept denying it, and two months ago they were separated and forced to work at different sections of the prison so they could not be in contact with each other,” said another source.
Mosadiwamaje Mokokong, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) provincial secretary in North West, blamed the prison for exposing Rammego to inmates.
“We are preliminarily told that the head insisted that the deceased member be removed from the area where she was initially placed and be placed at reception, where she was to be exposed to inmates.
“He did this despite the advice from Popcru in that institution. We hope that these allegations will form part of the investigation,” said Mokokong.
Tshidi Mapole, the department’s regional communication co-ordinator, said investigations into the incident were continuing and that Hlungwani had been charged internally and transferred.
“His exams have been postponed to the next semester and this has been done in consultation with Unisa,” said Mapole.
She said Rammego had been doing reception duties but did not want to comment on the affair and conflict that allegedly led to the leaking of the photos.
In 2011, the department was shamed when a sex tape featuring a male warder and a female police officer having sex in a room at Leratong Hospital emerged.
Although romantic relationships or sexual favours between inmates and warders are not a new phenomenon in South Africa’s prisons, they are hardly spoken about.
The Jali Commission set up in 2001 to investigate incidents of corruption, maladministration, violence and intimidation never addressed it.
It focused only on sexual harassment between prison employees or sexual violence among offenders, and there were even suggestions to install cameras in cells, overruled by the inmates’ rights to privacy.
Kenny Kunene, a businessman and former inmate at Grootvlei Prison, whose exposé on prison corruption led to the establishment of the commission, said romantic affairs between inmates and warders were common. “It’s been there since my time and I’ve dabbled in them.
Perhaps the commission never looked into them because they were not necessarily corrupt in nature but were between two consenting adults who gave each other sexual benefits for something in return,” he said.
Kunene said most female employees got into such relationships for financial and sexual benefits or simply to have a trusted companion who had little chance to cheat.