By Shaun Gillham
A BRITISH businessman and former life partner of Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas has told of how he had been scarred for life following a nightmarish 19-month ordeal at Nelson Mandela Bay’s notorious St Albans prison, where he suffered daily gang rape and other physical abuse.
Englishman Sean Smith, 42, a former Nelson Mandela Bay resident who faces arrest in South Africa after fleeing the country in the boot of a car while out on bail – allegedly with the help of the British High Commission – has described how he contracted HIV/Aids after being raped up to “eight times a day” by fellow inmates.
In addition Smith, who was arrested in 2007 on fraud changes relating to the property industry and was detained for 19 months at the prison, alleged that:
* Cells are supposed to sleep no more than 20 inmates but he was forced to share with about 90;
* Food and medical supplies are being illegally sold at St Albans; Medical staff at the prison are “negligent”;
* There is “outright bribery” of prosecutors and investigative officers in Port Elizabeth; and
* There is a ruthless “Afrikaans hierarchy” that runs the prison.
In an exclusive interview with Weekend Post – to which he agreed to speak because he said the paper was the only thing that kept him “sane” while in prison – Smith said he had been leading the high life in the Eastern Cape in the mid-2000s when he was arrested in Port Elizabeth in 2007 on fraud charges involving millions of rands.
The charges, which both Smith and his former Port Elizabeth legal representative strongly claim would have been successfully defended, involved the purchase of luxury properties, including two houses in Jeffreys Bay, one in Grahamstown and one in Theescombe, and items such as furniture.
Smith claims that, while at St Albans, he was raped at least once a day and sometimes up to “eight times a day”. He said the rapes began about six days into his imprisonment when the other inmates realised he was not a “threat”.
“You could hear screams all night as the prisoners raped each other. Because of the conditions of the system, I hold the authorities responsible for the physical, sexual and mental abuse I suffered and which still haunts me today,” he said.
Nine months into his term at St Albans he was given the devastating news he was HIV-positive. Smith was finally granted R20000 bail after a magistrate heard police had confiscated his British passport and other travel documents and a clinical psychologist had testified he was HIV-positive and was afraid of dying in jail.
“The negligent medical staff, the zealously corrupt officials, together with the rest of the Afrikaans hierarchy that control the Port Elizabeth justice system for their own personal gain, need bringing down in order to stop what happened to me and is happening to hundreds of other people in the Bay area.
“The illegal sale of food and medicines and the physical and sexual abuse of the prisoners need to stop, together with the outright bribery of prosecutors and investigative officers in Port Elizabeth,” Smith said. Although he was not considering action against authorities because “no amount of money can heal what I went through”, he was not letting the matter rest, he said. He is now backing Port Elizabeth lawyer Egon Oswald’s crusade to address prisoner abuse at St Albans.
“I would like to officially pledge support to the human rights case being brought against the authorities in relation to the mistreatment of prisoners at St Albans. I am willing to throw my weight both intellectually and financially behind the legal fight to stop the atrocities.”
Smith, who after fleeing from South Africa established a company providing legal recruitment and other services, said his two-year relationship with Thomas ended recently.
Correctional Services Zama Feni said the department was aware of the allegations but had no comment at this time.
This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in the print edition of Weekend Post on Saturday April 21, 2012.