Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has praised Malmesbury communities for their courage in helping officials rearrest 65 of the 68 inmates who escaped from the Malmesbury Correctional Centre on Friday.
The total number was 68, instead of 69 as earlier reported by correctional services. Three fugitives, though, are still at large.
Some of those recaptured are deemed dangerous and have been transferred to maximum security facilities.
Lamola said the actions of communities show that, when the state and society work together, there is nothing that can defeat the partnership.
"When communities sprang into action across the areas, it was a true reflection of a united South Africa, standing together against those breaking the law. It is [a] sign that we can build a very common and peace-loving nation as a society when we are together.
"With the 48 hours reaction time, it has also proven that, when communities work with the police, correctional services and all sectors of society, crime can be beaten.
"This country can be safe and free of gangsterism, thuggery, armed robbery and any violent activity, including gender-based violence," said Lamola.
Lamola believed the partnership will send a strong message across the country that it can be done.
Lamola said police and correctional services officials would not have been able to rearrest the large number of escapees without the help of the communities and various sectors of community law enforcement.
"The difficult conditions under which correctional officials work are emotional and anything can happen because they are in a single place with some of the most dangerous criminals.
"Theirs is an important essential service performed under very dangerous conditions. As they narrate their story, you can hear emotions, feel the passion. You can feel that they are people committed to serving their country, despite whatever has happened," the minister said.
"A female official, [who worked] where firearms are kept, ensured the escapees don't get closer to the office to obtain those firearms.
"We don't know what would have happened had they accessed the firearms. She is a cadre of government who must be commended for good work.
"We didn't come here to condemn offenders for their reckless behaviour. We came here to commend and give support to officials and send a message across the country to other correctional officers that their work is difficult, even under Covid-19," said Lamola.
Lamola said, in the Cape Town region, 40 correctional officials have tested positive, 32 of have recovered and eight are in isolation.
Three inmates, who tested positive, have all recovered.
"There is a zero incident of Covid-19 among offenders. This is a good thing that there was no reason for these offenders to embark on this reckless behaviour because recoveries mean it is a sign that their well-being is taken care of.
"We want to convey the message of gratitude to officers, police and communities for their heroic act, and it must be emulated across the country as a sign to fight crime," Lamola said.
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