Nearly 70 inmates staged a brazen escape from a detention centre in South Africa’s wine-producing town of Malmesbury after overpowering guards, before most were re-arrested, the government has said.
The inmates, who were awaiting trial, broke out on Friday around midday during routine physical exercise at the facility situated about 65 kilometres (40 miles) north of Cape Town, the Department of Correctional Services said in a statement.
“The escapees overpowered officials, took the keys and locked three officials in a cell and opened other cells before escaping through the main entrance and over the roof,” it said.
Police immediately launched a manhunt and re-arrested 61 of the 69 escapees.
A video circulated on social media by well-known anti-crime activist Yusuf Abramjee showed a number of men running from the prison grounds.
Prisoners escape Malmesbury. Some even hijacked a vehicle. pic.twitter.com/HqugqzLu5M
— Yusuf Abramjee (@Abramjee) July 24, 2020
Other videos showed men with their hands behind their backs being led into the back of a vehicle by police officers.
Witness Justus Schoonraad, a high school principal, was quoted by local media as saying some prisoners jumped the fence and made their way onto the school premises.
“I was sitting at my desk and then I heard a few shots from the vicinity of the prison and that is about 400m from the school,” he said.
RT #sapsWC Massive manhunt for #escaped Malmesbury prisoners. Members of the public are advised not attempt to apprehend the #escapees but to 📞 Lt Col Ntsethe 0824690975 / Jonathan Bredenkamp from Dept Correctional Services 072 878 2685. #CrimeStop MEhttps://t.co/XsOrXwKCy5 pic.twitter.com/fI3U8MQkbs
— SA Police Service 🇿🇦 (@SAPoliceService) July 24, 2020
“I saw a lot of guys running around, and these guys were running all over the place.”
The centre was holding 451 offenders and there were 20 officials on duty at the time of the incident in the town surrounded by wheat and wine farms.
Police warned members of the public not to try and apprehend any of the prisoners, but to call authorities instead.