Out to Lunch


Jailbreak. Serving time

We recently heard from a friend about the Pollsmoor Prison restaurant called Idlanathi (We eat together) which is staffed by prisoners. Pollsmoor was even home to Mandela for a while. We had never been to a prison before. We had also heard about Pollsmoor and its overcrowding a few times on the news that week.  Everyone in my family was interested. 

We had hardly made the decision, when I overheard my son telling his friends that we will be going to Pollsmoor as we have decided to do “Interesting Things” this year. (True. Fig-picking and virtual reality gaming are next on the list.) Such enthusiasm for family outings. 

Pollsmoor is right next to Reddam, a very expensive private school. This started a conversation about the thin line between greed and poverty. Entering the Pollsmoor grounds was an experience in itself. Guards with guns and uniforms opened gates and booms.  Just like driving into a computer game such as Grand Theft Auto. Fences, walls, guard towers and a windowless monolith. No flowers. We got lost. We had no idea the grounds were so big.  There are in fact five distinct prisons that make up Pollsmoor, each accommodating roughly 7,000 convicts and awaiting-trial prisoners.

We could hear voices floating from the buildings; male voices calling, women’s voices greeting. My son remarked that a prison is pretty much the end of the road.  Once you are in there you are out of sight and forgotten.

We found the restaurant after some wrong turns. It is in an ugly facebrick community centre.  The restaurant primarily caters for prison staff – there are about 1,300 employees.  The mess is not a pretty place, but it is clean and light.  The menu held delights such as the toasted cheese and tomato sandwich for only R5 and the most extensive breakfast which includes boerewors, bacon, hash browns and coffee for only R38.

The restaurant staff is made up of wardens and inmates. Our waiter was an inmate.  He works at the restaurant seven days a week and gets paid R35 per month.  He says he likes working there as he gets a meal and gets to dress in civvies. Prisoners who work at the restaurant are allocated less crowded cells. He shares his with one other man.  So much safer than the overcrowded gang-filled cells that sleep up to 80.

Our waiter seemed like a nice guy, friendly and willing to make conversation. Very likeable. He said he had a Matric and that he was “only in for two years”.

Our food was served on enormous plates. Big helpings, a bit like at an American diner. The other customers and staff were prison employees and their families.

Afterwards I read up about conditions and overcrowding in prison; what life is like inside Pollsmoor.  Food for thought. That is what it was for us: a visceral reminder that there are real people in there.  – Trudie Cousins

Idlanathi, Steenberg Road, Tokai. For bookings, call: 021 700 1270.

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