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Silence the Violence

Silence the Violence

Used with permission of the author:
Author: Steuart Pennington
Co-founder and Partner
SOUTH AFRICA - The Good News project
25 May 2007
This article appeared in two parts in SOUTH AFRICA - The Good News, 21 May 2007 and 25 May 2007.

Back to ... Workinfo.com Human Resources Magazine Volume 1 Issue 8, 2007

"I'm in for 20 years for double murder," the librarian at Zonderwater Maximum Prison told me as I walked into a bright, well-stocked library where offenders in their orange overalls were diligently studying and working on computers. My impressions of this maximum facility were at 180° of what I had expected. There were no sullen, scar-faced, dangerous-looking men glaring at these “visitors” who had come to visit, there were no grumpy looking guards reluctantly showing us around as if this was extra work. And although overcrowding was evident, the place looked bright and organised.

As part of my journey to understand crime in South Africa and as part of a programme at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), I had been introduced to an NGO called Khulisa Crime Prevention Initiative whose byline is "Rehabilitate - Restore - Reintegrate". They had organised a day at this facility to show us the work they were doing with prisoners, sorry, offenders (prisoner in today's South Africa is an outdated term).

This particular facility was built for 846 offenders and is currently housing 1,800 we were told as we were introduced to the Chief Correctional Officer. As he was wearing epilates with three pips, I asked if he was a Captain. "No, we dropped saluting and referring to each other after using military jargon years ago," was the reply. We quickly learnt that of the 1,800 inmates approximately 180 were White, Coloured and Asian (that's a standard question in South Africa isn't it?). All of them were "maximum", offenders with 10 years plus sentences. The prison has 188 staff members ranging from psychologists to educationalists to nurses to sports and welfare officers. Many of the offenders are involved in "educating" others who have received bursaries from UNISA and the corporate sector.

I was rather intrigued to meet the psychologist and wondered what kind of person could possibly spend his or her day dealing with these murderers, rapists, armed robbers and violent abusers. I had this image of a burly, thick-set, middle-aged man who rather looked like a criminal himself. You can imagine my astonishment when a drop-dead gorgeous young woman entered the Chief’s office! As we walked round this Correctional Centre with the psychologist, I was astonished at the relaxed and friendly dynamic that existed between her and the offenders.

We quickly learnt of the daily routine: up at 05h00; breakfast between 07h00 and 08h00, education, recreation and sports until lunch and then back into the cells at 14h00 for the rest of the day with a “light supper”. The psychologist explained to us the emphasis that is placed on the different types of education. Some of these offerings are “anger management” and then both secondary and tertiary opportunities. Visits are allowed over the weekend and on public holidays.

As we walked around the centre I was very aware of the inmates playing soccer, attending church services, taking classes, studying in the library, working in craft shops and generally being occupied. As I walked into a cell, designed for 24 inmates but with 36 (everyone sleeps on bunks with barely enough room to squeeze between them) and one toilet, one shower and one television, I wasn't overcome with a sense of inhumane treatment. I had drawn the comparison to that of my work on the coal and gold mines in the 80’s where conditions were eerily similar, the difference being here that the cells were immaculate, every bed made with blankets, sheets and two pillows (not the case on the mines), every locker well-kept and plenty of evidence of inmates doing their ironing. I also visited single cells which are made available to those prisoners who are seriously studying or who have in one way or another been victimised.

On the surface, the facility looked organised, well-managed, hygienic and friendly, a real Correctional Centre. There were, however, some grumblings from offenders regarding medical services, the shortage of psychological and social worker services, as well as overcrowding.

The final part of our visit involved our introduction to the Khulisa class of volunteers (200 applicants originally applied with a shortlist of 36 eventually being selected). These offenders were being prepared to work amongst other inmates on a HIV/AIDS and drug peer educator programme. The 12-month programme includes four modules:

My Path – this is a self-help learning programme for individuals needing to correct their behaviour. The programme places a learner on a path of exploring who he or she really is and preparing for re-entry into a positive, productive and meaningful lifestyle.
Drug awareness – the programme teaches participants to physically identify illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia, and to recognise when legal and over the counter drugs are being abused.
HIV/Aids awareness – this programme trains peer educators – the most effective advocates for attitude and behaviour change – to teach HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.
Street Law – understanding of human rights and responsibilities.

Our session ended with a number of the programme attendees sharing their testimonies.

"I have been here for 17 years, guilty of armed robbery and murder. I am passionate about this programme. I understand so much more about myself and what I can do to help others. My vision, when I am released, is to work with the youth of our country, black and white, male and female. I would like them to understand the cycle of violence and to give them hope. ”

"My name is Fred (not real name). I was with the cops for 17 years, both pre- and post-94. It was hard for me to get used to the new South Africa, I lost it one night and killed some innocent people. This programme has been great for me; when I am released I am going on to work with cops who suffered some of the stresses that I did, and to help them cope better.”

The stories were all similar, maximum sentences for serious offences. The Khulisa senior co-ordinator Thabo Monyatsi has a really warm vibe with these offenders. I was amazed at how articulate and committed they were to “silencing the violence" through the replication of these peer education programmes throughout the facility.

According to Monyatsi, it is believed that these peer educators will be working in the delivery of change programmes with at least 2/3 of the prison population during the course of the next 3 years. The programme roll-out is developed in consultation with the prison authorities. The impact of the prisoners is monitored on an ongoing basis.

For me, this experience drove the point home that the challenge of "Making South Africa Safer" must go beyond simply improving policing, the court system, and building new prisons. We must mobilise the public to become more law-abiding and we must become involved with initiatives that encourage community safety AND we must work with offenders and ex-offenders to Rehabilitate - Restore - Reintegrate them into society. I can't think of anything more powerful than ex-offenders dealing directly with our youth in a "Making South Africa Safer" campaign. For my part, I will try to spread the influence of this important contribution.

"Let the hands that once hurt be the hands that heal.”

“I’m an ex-offender, I did 15 years for armed robberies” says Sam. “I’m an ex-offender, I did four years for rape” says Ignatius. “I’m an ex-offender…”

As I went around the room at the Head Office of crime prevention NGO Khulisa, I learnt from the six ex-offenders I was interviewing what crimes they had committed, where they did their time, and what they had determined to do with their lives after imprisonment.

My journey to understand crime in South Africa has taken a new turn, commencing with a visit last week to Zonderwater Correctional Centre ('Prison' is not PC!).

Following the prison visit, I met with a group of ex-offenders, some of whom are still on parole, some not. Again my reality was 180 degrees from what I had expected. These ex-offenders didn’t look traumatised by long jail sentences; they spoke so openly about their crimes, it was almost disarming, and they described so sincerely, and articulately, their determination to become involved in “educating” our youth at both primary and secondary school level as well as their desire to “silence the violence”.

While in prison they had participated in Khulisa’s Peer Drugs and HIV/AIDS Education Programme and were now engaged in Khulisa’s reintegration initiative: the “Make South Africa Safe” campaign.

This campaign trains ex-offenders as master trainers who, in turn, research, develop and implement crime prevention programmes in their respective communities. The services of the ex-offenders are made available to various NGOs, government departments and other agencies in the delivery of crime prevention programmes. This is linked specifically to the philosophy of restorative justice whereby ex-offenders are provided with an opportunity to make amends to victims and the community for the damage done through their criminal acts.

Johannes, another member of the group I was interviewing, had been selected by Khulisa as a potential community leader. In 2002 he attended the MIB (Making it Better) Programme, which focuses on developing young adults as community leaders and role models. The skills he acquired through programme included Ubuntu (humanity); presentation skills; teambuilding, life skills; drama therapy; meditation; counselling and indigenous games.

Johannes was working in association with the ex-offenders in order to support their programme delivery amongst school-going children, particularly in disadvantaged communities. One of the particular interventions delivered by the ex-offenders under the banner of “Make South Africa Safe” campaign is called “Silence the Violence”. This programme enables participants to understand the three levels of violence (verbal, physical and emotional); restorative justice; the dark face and the true face (a game to get children to deal with their “dark side”); non-violent communication skills; drama; listening skills; and personal recovery.

The underlying motto of the programme is “learning the way forward – leaving the past behind – developing a personal road map”.

Included in the programme is drug and alcohol awareness, and helping children understand drugs: the process of addiction, withdrawal, relapses, triggers and where to find counselling.

Learners are given the wherewithal to evaluate this “teaching”, to form support groups, and to develop mentor relationships with the ex-offenders.

Walter Phello, the programme co-ordinator, who was originally introduced to Khulisa in 2002 when he was serving a maximum security sentence at Johannesburg Medium C Prison, explains: “We have 26 ex-offenders and 4 youth leaders on this programme in our area. They work in pairs and we are currently involved in 9 schools, a school of industry and various community centres. At present we are working with about 3 500 learners but I am proud to say this initiative is also happening in other areas of South Africa”.


“Why aren’t you?” I ask rather naively. “Is it a shortage of ex-offenders who have the capability to do this work?”

“No, just funding,” he replies and explains further: “We have 58 additional parolees who have requested that they participate in the “Make South Africa Safe” campaign. They are researching needs in their communities, particularly in schools, in orphanages and places of safety. BUT there are hundreds of parolees out there who want to and can help, who are unemployed and who, through inactivity, will relapse back into crime!

“For obvious reasons they struggle to get work elsewhere.”

Ignatius agrees, “What makes the learners listen is that we have been there, we’ve done drugs, abused alcohol and committed serious crimes. I don’t see myself as a teacher, rather a facilitator. Learners see us as providers of knowledge, advice and experience… they really want to know. They want us to become part of the school. Both teachers and parents see us as adding real value. But … there is such a struggle to find the funding to support us”.

Sam explains, “While we get paid R100 per day for our work, we fear reprisals from drug lords, we have no transport for house visits with parents, we even battle to supply the “dark face” masks. The demand in our communities far outweighs our ability to supply.”

I talk to Lesley Ann, the founder of Khulisa (operating for 10 years in SA).

“It’s funding – plain and simple” she says. “We have received funding from the Finnish Government over the past 6 years but this funding cycle is now coming to an end. We could be working in every jail – oops! correctional centre – and with learners in every province. We could deploy hundreds of parolees to work in our schools, but it is a real battle to get support in order to sustain them financially. ”

“What about government?” I ask. “They give us some funding as do overseas governments and trusts, but the corporate sector here could do so much more.”

“Why aren’t they?” I ask. “You’re doing such great preventative work.”

“It’s all about communication” she replies. “We need to share our successes with fellow South Africans in order to generate the confidence in the potential of ex-offenders. We believe that if we can get to learners at the most vulnerable period (12 years old), we could have a real chance of giving them a sense of purpose, a sense of the future… and keeping them away from crime. Through our programmes we demonstrate to children that there are alternatives.”

I am perplexed.

That night I have dinner with Taddy Blecher, CEO of CIDA City Campus, now a global model providing disadvantaged children with a world class tertiary business education. I tell him of my experience.

“Let us find a way of giving 500 parolees a chance to do this kind of work with CIDA’s support,” he challenges.

We’re on it… with Khulisa’s help!

For more information on Khulisa, visit the Khulisa website


In my opinion, if we want to really fix crime in this country, we’ve got to do four things well:

  1. Build institutional capacity – better policing, better courts, better correctional centres
  2. Mobilise the public – encourages ordinary citizens to do their bit and become more law abiding
  3. Understand the root causes of crime – work in dysfunctional communities to stop the cycle of violence and the cycle of poverty
  4. Improve our capacity to prevent, restore and rehabilitate using these who have offended so that they can be reintegrated positively into society

Steuart Pennington is devoted full time to the SOUTH AFRICA-The Good News project and he's primarily responsible for product content development. Steuart owns Good People Management (GPM) which specialises in enhancing strategy delivery for corporates and he continues to publish books about management practice. He holds a BA.Hons from Rhodes, a PDM from Wits University and a Certificate in Management from Oxford. Stuart believes that we "don't describe the future we see … we see the future we describe." He can be contacted at +27 (0)11 463 5713begin_of_the_skype_highlighting +27 (0)11 463 5713 end_of_the_skype_highlighting, steuart@sagoodnews.co.za or http://www.sagoodnews.co.za.

Short Summary:
Ex-offenders are working in our communities and make a significant contribution to a safer society through training and educational programmes addressing violence, abuse, and criminal offenses. As society we can assist by helping them reintegrate positively in society.

Key words and relevant phrases:
Education, ex-offenders, HIV/Aids awareness, recruitment, rehabilitation programmes, society, violence.

Back to ... Workinfo.com Human Resources Magazine Volume 1 Issue 8, 2007

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