Pretoria – Young offenders, who are serving prison sentences, have encouraged the youth of South Africa to focus on getting an education and to avoid being involved in criminal activities to improve their living conditions.
On Saturday, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Deputy Minister Andries Nel convened an interactive imbizo with youngsters at Emthonjeni Youth Centre at Baviaanspoort Correctional Centre in Pretoria.
There are at least 200 young people aged between 16 and 20 years old who are being rehabilitated at the centre after being convicted of a crime.
The Deputy Minister’s visit formed part of government’s National Development Plan (NDP) post-SONA Back-to-School Imbizo under the theme “Together we move South Africa Forward: Making our future work”.
Young offenders just above the age of 20 also attended the imbizo to draw inspiration from interactions, with the hope of changing their own lives when they leave prison.
Emthonjeni Youth Centre achieved a 100% matric pass rate in the 2016 academic year, which was a great contribution to the overall pass rate of 70.1% achieved by Correctional Services last year.
Prison life is not nice
One of the young offender, who hopes to change his life when he leaves prison, Thabang Masuku, told SAnews that he does not wish prison life for any young person.
“I know life is not easy for many young South Africans, especially those who are unemployed, but they must focus on getting an education and explore opportunities that will better their lives rather than getting involved in criminal activities. Prison life is not nice,” said Masuku.
The 23-year-old Masuku from Cullinan is the 2016 top achiever at Emthonjeni Youth Centre. He achieved above 70% in all seven subjects.
He started his sentence in September 2015 when he was convicted for crimes including armed robbery, being in possession of unlicensed fire arm and ammunition.
He is furthering his studies at the centre and has aspirations to start a clothing brand business when he completes his sentence.
“I am currently enrolled for Marketing N4. I already have a business proposal and I want to open my business when I leave here,” said Masuku.
His fellow inmate, Sphiwe Hlatshwayo, 21, from Germiston in the East Rand will be released from prison towards the end of this year.
Hlatshwayo, who is currently in Grade 12 at the centre, also encouraged the youth to not waste their time practicing crime.
“It is not easy to study in prison but we have to persevere. One of the challenges is that there are gangs in prison and they distract you from focusing on your studies,” Hlatshwayo told SAnews.
However, he said he ensures that he has enough time to study and also to interact with his fellow inmates to balance the equation.
Invest time, energy in education
Deputy Minister Nel acknowledged that most of the offenders who attended the imbizo were younger than South Africa’s democracy. He encouraged them to invest their time and energy in education.
“Arm yourselves with practical skills, artisanal skills, things that will allow you either to find a job or employ yourself and create your own business, and hopefully one day have a business that will even employ others in your society,” said the Deputy Minister.
The Deputy Minister asked them to help change the state of South Africa’s economy. However, the Deputy Minister told offenders that they should not think that things will be served to them on a silver platter when they leave prison.
“I am not going to tell you what you want to hear, I am not that type of a leader… the fact that you have a criminal record next to your name means that you will need to work twice as hard to get a job than a person with no criminal record out there. It is not going to be easy but you must have courage to do it,” he said.
Correctional Service Chief Deputy Commissioner James Smalberger urged the youngsters to turn a new page in their lives.
“I encourage each and every one of you and others who are not here today, to take a chance to rethink about what you have done, accept that you have wronged society, even ask for forgiveness from the victims and turn a new page into your lives,” said Smalberger.
The Department of Correctional Services has a Social Integration Policy that supports ex-offenders who have qualifications to find jobs.
The day saw other Cabinet Ministers engaging communities in Education izimbizo in other provinces, including Mpumalanga, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
The NDP envisions a South Africa where everyone has access to education of the highest quality, leading to significantly improved outcomes and a prosperous life.