Sondolo IT in news again


A multi million rand security system provided for the Department of Correctional Services is not fully functional after the department paid R89 million for the contract, SABC News reports. The tender was awarded to Sondolo IT, a subsidiary of unlisted vendor Bosasa, which has several other contracts in the prison system, including catering.

The state broadcaster says the information was disclosed by the minister Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula in a written reply to a parliamentary question. The R89 million four-year contract which expires on the March 31 next year includes supply, delivery, installation and commissioning of access control equipment to all the country’s correctional centres.

It also includes the training of 800 warders who in turn will train other warders of the department. Thus far only 84 correctional officials were trained. Mapisa Nqakula says only the national control room in Pretoria as well as those in Zonderwater and Baviaanspoort are fully operational. All other control rooms are in working condition but are not fully functional, SABCNews added.

The minister says all CCTV cameras in all centres are being monitored and the elements of the security system which are dysfunctional are the gates, turnstiles as well as the biometric finger print readers. The department plans to re-commission the system before the end of next month, the broadcaster says. The prison system has been rocked by a spate of prison breaks in recent weeks.

The department decided to “insource” the staffing of its national and regional control rooms as well as similar facilities at 66 prisons around the country last May. The running of the national and regional centres had previously been outsourced to Sondolo IT under a R88 million contract awarded in 2005. The deal also saw Krugersdorp-based Sondolo IT install 1850 cameras, 850 biometric readers, 600 metal detectors and 640 access control systems in the 66 prisons and control rooms it monitored.

The Democratic Alliance, relying on media reports, at the time criticised the move. Prisons spokesman James Selfe said the reports indicated “that the department had no contingency plans to train its own personnel to operate 72 control rooms following the expiry of Sondolo IT`s contract…” Selfe said this exposed “the rank mismanagement of the department”.  

Then-DCS National Commissioner Xoliswa Sibeko responded Sondolo IT only monitored 27% of the country`s 239 prisons. She adds that warders have been “provisionally deployed to man the control rooms in the affected … centres.” The department was in the meantime recruiting new staff. “Over 600 vacancies for control room operators were advertised in March 2009 … and currently the department is busy with the selection process,” she said.

Sibeko also said the control rooms and their associated IT are not the totality of the DCS` security systems. “Any advanced security equipment is as good as your personnel, and over the years thousands of correctional officials have led our efforts to improve security in all respects. “The department`s progressive improvement of security and reduction of escapes is testimony to our reliance on the basics of security management strategy which is underpinned by the presence of adequate, trained and appropriately equipped personnel in sensitive areas within the department`s operations”.

Her spokesman Manelisi Wolela added last May the department was generally satisfied with Sondolo IT but believed “insourcing” was now a better option than outsourcing as DCS personnel were also trained to read prisoner body language and new service protocol, which helps them identify anomalous behaviour. Outsiders, he says, are not always familiar with the nuances of prison life. Sondolo IT was to remain responsible for maintaining the equipment. Sondolo IT national operations coordinator Retief van der Merwe told ITWeb in 2007 the technology and control rooms created multiple layers of supervision and remote data monitoring that made difficult escapes and other illegal activity in the affected prisons.

In addition to watching the guards and gates on CCTV streamed over the Internet, control room staff have access to the raw data the detectors and scanners collect. They can also shut down a prison remotely in the case of a riot or hostage situation and cancel kidnapped staff members’ access credentials. In addition, real-time statistics can be obtained of traffic through turnstiles.

Sondolo IT MD Trevor Mathenjwa added that the biometric system has other advantages as well, as it controlled staff, visitor and contractor access. “The saving to the taxpayer is inestimable,” said Mathenjwa, adding that it had already then caught a number of contractors defrauding the department, including a cleric that claimed for time spent ministering to prisoners; claims not supported by his access records.

The Mail & Guardian newspaper has reported that Bosasa has received work worth more than R2-billion from the department. Willie Hofmeyr, the head of the statutory Special Investigations Unit last November briefed Parliament on claims of collusion between senior prison staff and Bosasa employees. The company has denied any impropriety and has taken legal action against the SIU for allegedly acting outside its constitutional mandate.

Bosasa was in March aiming to win the contract, apparently worth almost R1 billion, to protect more than 600 buildings under the Justice Department’s control, including most of the Magistrate’s and High Courts.