Friday, November 24, 2006

Mandela's No Houdini

South African authorities are searching for a man they call 'the Houdini of C Max' for his dramatic escape from Pretoria Central Prison over the weekend:

Mathe, who became the first person to escape from the prison in its 36-year existence late on Saturday night, left the authorities a message on the prison's walls, which simply read "f*** you".

Since 2003, according to the police, the 27-year-old Mathe and his gang moved "from town to town", robbing and raping.

Mathe was first arrested in December last year and charged with 51 cases, including murder, attempted murder, rape, hijacking and armed robbery.

During his weekend escape, Mathe is believed to have stripped and covered his entire body with petroleum jelly to enable him to climb out of a bullet-proof window in his cell, which measured just 20cm by 60cm.

He was able to break through the wall surrounding the window, something which seems impossible in a cell where prisoners are allowed only a toothbrush, mug and spoon, and are shackled at all times.

The cell from where he escaped is about 6sq m in size and contains only a bed, toilet, basin and wooden bench.

Once he had managed to remove the window, it is believed that he broke off two steel bars from his bed, which he wedged on either side of the window to help him slide his shoulders out of the window.

Mathe apparently took another steel pipe from his bed and made a hook from it. He then tied his clothes and bed linen to it, and used it to slide out of the cell down
the firewall.

Halfway down the wall, Mathe was able to use some of the grime he had collected on his way down to write prison officials his mocking message.

Since his escape, police have shot a preacher and arrested the wrong man, in cases of mistaken identity. Police believe this was an inside job, but the only other explanation would be rather far-fetched.

Oh, the title is because Nelson Mandela was also housed at Pretoria Central Prison (as was Steven Biko).

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