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As part of his rehabilitation, jailed businessman Sifiso Zulu has gone back to his roots – milking cows, rearing chickens and planting vegetables – at the Sevontein farm prison.
On May 25, Zulu was transferred from Westville Prison to the rural correctional facility 60km outside Pietermaritzburg.
He is serving a three-year sentence for culpable homicide.
At the time, the move outraged his lawyer, Lonwabo Dandala, who called it “highly irregular” and unconstitutional.
Dandala had said the transfer was done against Zulu’s will and questioned why it had been personally overseen by the Department of Correctional Services regional commissioner, Mnikelwa Nxele.
But, two weeks later, Dandala has done an about-turn, saying Zulu was coping extremely well and had fallen in love with his rural surroundings.
Sevontein is a farm prison where prisoners grow vegetables and rear animals to supply other prisons in the province.
“Mr Nxele knew exactly what he was doing. We were angry at the time but in reality, the transfer was the best thing that could have happened to Zulu. I have visited him there and it is a beautiful place,” Dandala said. “So much so, that he may even consider swopping the city life for the farm after he completes his prison sentence.”
Nxele welcomed the news that Zulu was happy in his new environment.
“I am glad that everyone has realised that this was not a personal attack on Zulu and that all offenders are treated like human beings,” he said. “This move was to safeguard the interests of Zulu and the Department of Correctional Services.”
Nxele said he had no doubt Zulu would adapt well to his surroundings, making his incarceration less unpleasant.
“Sevontein is not heaven and (inmates) are not angels. But, being a farm prison, the inmates are not idle during the day. They work in the dairy or on the farms planting carrots, potatoes, spinach and other vegetables,” he said.
“It is rewarding, because they see the fruits of their labour.”
Dandala said Zulu was fully occupied and started his day at the crack of dawn milking cows, rearing chickens and planting vegetables.
“He is a city boy, but is happy to go back to his roots. He especially enjoys milking the cows. It is therapeutic for him,” he said. “Other than working the land, Zulu is also learning irrigation and other farming skills. He also participates in life skills programmes as part of his rehabilitation programme.”
Nxele said most of the milk and vegetables were consumed by the inmates at the prison.
“Very often we have a surplus and this is sent to nearby prisons in Pietermaritzburg and Ixopo or to centres in other provinces.”
With regard to Zulu’s appeal against his sentence and conviction, Dandala said he was still busy preparing a comprehensive application, which is expected to be filed in the Supreme Court of Appeal in early August.
“We are very confident of a successful appeal,” he said. “It is taking some time to compile, but in the end it will be worth the trouble.”
In the meantime, Dandala said he would make an application to the parole board, on Zulu’s behalf, for an early remission of sentence. The remission plan for certain categories of prisoners was outlined by President Jacob Zuma on Freedom Day.
“He does qualify for the 18-month amnesty. Hopefully, the parole board will yield positive results and his time in prison will be shortened. We are optimistic.”
Nxele said Zulu fell within the framework for the presidential amnesty, and qualified for it. But the decision would be made by the parole board, he said.