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South Africa may convert luxury suites to prison cells

South Africa said on Thursday it might make a jail out of a once luxurious skyscraper in blighted downtown Johannesburg, whose flats boast private saunas and sun terraces.

The latest controversial plan from the prisons ministry - which has also suggested incarcerating hardened criminals in unused mineshafts to make sure they don't escape - was another blow to the esteem of the crime-ridden city."We are looking at the possibility but it is only exploratory. We still have a lot of investigating to do," correctional services spokesman Bert Slabbert told Reuters.

The ministry, grappling with overcrowded and overburdened prisons in a country with some of the world's worst rates of murder, armed robbery, rape and assault, said the 52-storey Ponte City tower was only one of several buildings being considered.

Another is a former office building belonging to South Africa's mighty Anglo American Corp. near the Stock Exchange in the heart of the city.

Many of downtown Johannesburg's offices stand empty or half-empty as businesses flee to the mainly white northern suburbs, hoping to escape the crime and grime.

Johannesburg landmarks have been hit, but none has yet suffered the special fate being mulled by the ministry.