|dc.description.abstract||The focus of this thesis is on the evolving public discourse surrounding imprisonment in South Africa
from the colonial period to the post-apartheid era, and its effects on the human rights of prisoners.
Although the punishment of imprisonment has dominated the penal landscape for around 200 years it is
clear that, in terms of its stated aims of reducing crime and rehabilitating criminals, it has proven to be
an abject failure. The influential philosopher Michel Foucault maintains that the failure of this form of
punishment was apparent from the very beginning of its rise to prominence in the Nineteenth Century.
It turned out, however, that the very failure of the prison system – its propensity to "create" a class of
criminals separated from the rest of society – was useful in the context of developing capitalist
industrial societies. As a result, this form of punishment did not wither away, but continued in
existence despite repeated crises and widespread public acknowledgement of its failure to reform
criminals or to reduce crime.
The above may be true of the manner in which imprisonment, as a form of punishment, evolved in
France and in the developed world in general, but the question at the heart of this thesis is whether or
not Foucault's theory holds true in the South African context. In other words, by carefully tracing the
public discourse surrounding imprisonment in South Africa from the colonial to the post-apartheid
periods, a primary aim of this thesis is to establish whether the evolution of imprisonment in South
Africa follows the same pattern as that outlined by Foucault – a pattern of apparent "failure" from the
very start, with regular and repeated, but ultimately futile, attempts at "reform". By showing that this is,
in fact, the case – that the South African prison system has been lurching from crisis to crisis since its
inception, with the same "solutions" being suggested from one decade to the next – this thesis suggests
that the "problem" with imprisonment in this country lies at a structural and ideological level. If this
thesis is correct, "reforming" the South African penal system will not be possible without completely
rethinking imprisonment as a form of punishment at an ideological level. Precisely what such a
rethinking might entail, this thesis leaves open for future scholarship.
An important secondary aim of this thesis is to trace the evolution of penal ideology in the South
African context. In other words, it sets out to trace the development of the perceptions and ideas which
have underpinned the punishment of imprisonment in this country over its history. Starting in the
colonial period and focusing in particular on colonial Natal, these ideas may be described as the
articulation of the penal theories and assumptions of an industrialised metropolitan political economy –
Great Britain – and those of a rural colonial political economy – the Colony of Natal. A unique
ideology of racially defined punishment emerges strongly towards the end of the colonial period.
Moving to the apartheid period, through a careful analysis of various themes which arise in the public
discourse surrounding imprisonment, the thesis traces the penal ideology operating within a society
rigidly segregated according to race. Finally, once again through a careful analysis of the public
discourse surrounding imprisonment, the ideas and perceptions which underpin punishment within
post-apartheid South Africa, are examined. The thesis thus provides a unique overview of the manner
in which penal ideology has developed within a uniquely African setting, by tracing the evolution of a
set of ideas reflected in public discourse.
A tertiary aim of this thesis is to trace the manner in which the role played by imprisonment within the
social, political and economic structure of the country as a whole, has changed over time – together
with social, political and economic developments. The use of imprisonment as a mechanism of social
control during various periods – particularly the colonial and apartheid periods – as well as the constant
problems which arose within the South African penal system because of this, is particularly important.
Finally, as part of a detailed analysis of the public discourse surrounding imprisonment in South Africa
during specific periods in the colonial, apartheid and post-apartheid eras, this thesis examines selected
themes and sub-themes which emerged at various times. Taken together, these themes and sub-themes
provide a series of "snapshots" of what it was like to be imprisoned in South Africa at particular times
in the country's history. A constant focus throughout the thesis is the manner in which the human rights
of South African prisoners have been abused from the time that prisons rose to prominence in this
country almost two centuries ago – to the present day. This thesis strives not to lose sight of the human
suffering which has characterised imprisonment in South Africa from colonial times to the present.||en_US