Inside C-Max

Last week, I stood just a metre away from Ananias Mathe inside Kokstad C-Max Prison. This is how it went down.

The corridors are deadly quiet, apart from the footsteps of warders and the occasional sound of a prisoner talking, moaning or even grumbling in his cell.

In this eerie silence, South Africa’s own Houdini – serial escape artist Ananias Mathe – got to work.

Using pieces of metal taken from his cell door, he chipped away at the wall. Before the guards did their nightly inspection, he used a home-made paste to cover up his handiwork. It is a similar colour to the off-white paint, so the guards did not notice.

PICTURE: THULI DLAMINI Inside A-Block at Kokstad C-Max Prison, "home" to some of the country's most hardened criminals.
PICTURE: THULI DLAMINI (c) Times Media Limited
Inside A-Block at Kokstad C-Max Prison, “home” to some of the country’s most hardened criminals.

Day after day, Mathe, 38, chipped away at the wall, trying to make a hole.

This continued until, one day, a guard noticed what he was up to. Mathe was immediately moved to the cell next door, and his brazen bid for freedom – in the form of a 33cm cut in the wall – was brought to an abrupt end.

But even if Mathe had escaped from his cell, he would have found himself inside that quiet corridor, and into the waiting arms of warders, who would have picked him up on one of the hundreds of CCTV cameras installed across the prison.

This is the reality of the eBongweni C-Max Prison in Kokstad. There is, quite simply, no getting out.

To read the rest of the story, go to Inside the SA prison no one has ever escaped from.

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