Escape from Pretoria
South Africa was once a hotbed of apartheid and racism. The black people there experienced unparalleled suffering.
Although there were many protests and riots against this, the government suppressed them with a heavy fist and hundreds of black people were imprisoned in various prisons in the country. One of the most notorious of these prisons was the Central Prison in Pretoria.
It was one of the largest prisons in South Africa and one of the maximum security prisons. White political prisoners, rioters and others were kept in this high security prison.
Writer and activist Timothy Peter Jenkin and another activist, Stephen Bernard Lee, were arrested on March 2, 1978, as anti-apartheid protests continued in South Africa.
Both of them were caught while distributing leaflets and other things in crowded places against racism by making some small controlled explosions and attracting people’s attention. (It is shown in the movie based on this story. The explosion is like a small firecracker bursting and leaflets are scattered.)
They were put on trial on many charges including working for the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party and printing and distributing leaflets for them, working with the agitators in the country and engaging in terrorist activities.
When they were tried in the Supreme Court in Cape Town from 6 to 14 June 1978, both pleaded guilty to the charges against them and the court found Jenkin and Lee guilty.
Jenk was sentenced to 12 years in prison and Lee to 8 years in prison and ordered to be held at the Central Prison in Pretoria.
Both of them were imprisoned in Pretoria prison and decided to escape as soon as possible.
But it was not that easy.
The prison was guarded by a very high wall and guards armed with guns. Passing through several doors leads to the locked rooms where the prisoners are kept.
Each locker had two doors. The first is hinged and the second is a fully covered metal door.
All doors were strong and locked at all times.
The other inmates who found out about their attempt to escape from the prison only mocked them.
Jenkin realized that if he wanted to escape from that prison, he could only escape by opening several doors.
Adept at making artificial keys, Jenkin began making wooden keys by drawing sketches of the models of keys that the warden had watching over them during and after breakfast.
While working in the workshop, he used to cut small pieces of wood and secretly bring them into the room and use a small saw to make duplicate keys from those pieces of wood. Thus, he tried to open the first door of the cell with the first key made of wood, but it was unsuccessful. But when he tried to open it, seeing the scars and bruises on it, he made the necessary change in the model of the key, and the cell door was opened in front of Jenk.
Overjoyed, Jenkin slept peacefully that day.
While cleaning the hallway, Jenkin made a key for a metal door that could be opened from the outside and opened that door with a second wooden key he made, but the key broke when he tried to close it again.
With great effort the pieces of wood were rammed, but the bolt of the lock could not be closed.
The warden, who came to lock the doors at night, was suspicious when he saw it, but thinking that the co-warden had forgotten, Jenkin was relieved when he closed the door.
Another political prisoner, Alex Mumbaris, also joined them in their escape attempt. But the rest of the prisoners did not cooperate with them for fear of being caught.
Jenkin also invented a way to open the outer metal door from inside the cell. He did some tricks on the long brush that he had been given to clean his own locker and through the night ventilator (it was a small window) he deftly opened the metal door of the cell with the key attached to the brush. (A piece of glass was used to see the keyhole from outside)
In this way, Jenkin, Lee and Alex were very skillfully breaking every door in that prison at night and doing trial runs to escape.
In between, there were often strict checks on everyone’s rooms, but luck was with Genk and his team.
These trial runs were conducted over several months.
After five or six doors is the night warden’s room.
But they were able to open that too cleverly.
Finally, after 18 months of imprisonment, on the night of December 11, 1979 to be exact, they attempted to escape. The doors opened one by one and they reached the ground floor and hunkered down waiting for the night warden to go on patrol.
One of the political prisoners in the prison, Denis Goldberg, turned on the lights and made a commotion to attract the warden’s attention, after which the warden went to the cell block on the top floor.
But this time they could not open the door.
He tried to open it with all the keys in his hand but the result was disappointment.
They were afraid that all their hard work would go to waste.
But with a small chisel in his hand, Alex began to pry away the wood around the lock. Jenkin didn’t agree with that. But Alex, who had a burning desire to escape, continued to break down the door. Finally they broke the door lock and opened that door too and went out.
Luckily for them, the gate to the outer road was open. The three who got on the road started walking along the side of the road and started going as far as possible.
With a few rupees that had been smuggled into the prison earlier, they took a taxi and started their journey to Mozambique.
As usual in the morning, when the warden came and opened the cell doors, the prisoners learned about the escape. Jenkin, Lee and Alex were continuing their journey in the taxi when he jumped up and blared the siren.
Movie : Escape from Pretoria (2020) Based on the real-life prison break of two political captives, Escape From Pretoria is a race-against-time thriller set in the tumultuous apartheid days of South Africa.
This movie will also show those events well in this article. Escape from Pretoria is a must watch movie.