JOHANNESBURG, June 10 -- Prison riots, which have already left two dead and 59 injured, spread throughout South Africa Friday as President Nelson Mandela called an urgent meeting of senior cabinet ministers and a prisoner rights group to deal with the crisis.
The rioting prisoners are demanding a general amnesty following calls by the South African Prisoners' Organization for Human Rights (SAPOHR) for prison protests to demand the release of non-violent offenders convicted of theft, housebreaking and fraud.
SAPOHR claims the prisoners were forced into crime by socio-economic imbalances which existed under white rule, which ended last April with the holding of the country's first all-race election.
Prisoners rioting in at last three prisons in the Pretoria/Witwatersr nd/Vereeniging, or PWV, and Western Cape provinces are also demanding the resignation of Correctional Services Minister Sipho Mzimela and better prison conditions.
SAPOHR chairman Golden Miles Bhudu has refused to take responsibility for the riots, which began Thursday, saying his organization had called for peaceful protests.
Bhudu called for an end to the protests Friday after meeting with Mandela, Deputy President Frederik de Klerk and Mzimela. Bhudu said the meeting had convinced him the prisoners' demands would be addressed.
However, prison officials said the situation remained volatile, especially in the Modderbee prison on the outskirts of Johannesburg where one death and 28 injuries occurred when warders clashed with an estimated 500 rioting prisoners.
Another prisoner was shot dead while taking part in a mass escape from the prison. Authorities said an unknown number of prisoners had escaped from the 4,000-person prison through underground service tunnels.
PWV premier Tokyo Sexwale entered Modderbee prison alone early Friday to successfully negotiate the release of a prison warder held captive by the inmates.
Sexwale later described the two-and-a-half hours of negotiation with prisoners armed with assorted homemade weapons as the most terrifying experience of his life.
Negotiations between authorities and dissenting prisoners were continuing Friday.NEWLN: (Written by Patrick Collings in Johannesburg)