Durban - He was barely out of his teens when he ran away from his Midrand home to join some of Durban’s most dangerous criminals – a move which eventually landed him behind bars.
But Thabo Mohlanga, 24, now seems to be turning his life around – he came top of the matric class at Westville Prison’s Usethubeni Youth School, collecting seven distinctions for business studies, Zulu first language, English first additional language, life orientation, maths, accounting and economics.
Mohlanga, who is serving an eight-year sentence for robbery, declined to go into detail about his crime during celebrations on Friday where the media met the class of 2013. He preferred to look to the future.
“I am very excited at being able to finally matriculate. When I was sentenced in 2010, I was already in my Grade 8, so when I was inside I opted to continue with my studies.
“I always dreamt of going to university since my childhood, I didn’t want my criminal record to destroy that dream.”
Mohlanga, who scored 85.3 percent said he would like to study for a Bachelor of Business Science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg, which has granted him conditional acceptance. But his education has to wait until he gets parole, which he hopes will be in June.
Mohlanga said his family was delighted with his progress and had promised to pay for his tertiary education.
Another inmate who’s made the most of his matric year was Musa Cele. The 24-year-old obtained seven distinctions, scoring 79.28 percent overall.
There to celebrate Cele’s success on Friday was his beaming aunt, Maria Phiri, 57, of Osindisweni, near Verulam on the North Coast.
“I am proud of him. He used to like school but he mingled with the wrong people.
“At home we were all fed-up with his criminal behaviour. His mother died a very sad person. I don’t like jail but I appreciate what they are doing here. His teacher told me he attends bible studies which have helped him change his mindset,” Phiri said.
At the time he was sentenced, Cele had failed Grade 10 at a school in Phoenix. He restarted his studies behind bars in 2011.
“My biggest motivation is that I wanted to better myself, I am now a born-again Christian. I am grateful to the school for giving me a second chance in life. I want to do law studies. I wanted to become a policeman, I could imagine myself carrying a gun, chasing after bad guys.
“Because of peer pressure, I drifted away from that goal. I chose the opposite route by terrorising innocent people, robbing them. I am now serving a 10-year sentence but hopefully I would get a parole,” Cele said.
School principal Dominic Zulu said he had mixed feelings about the school’s 67 percent matric pass rate, which landed the school in second position nationally after Barberton Youth Centre in Mpumalanga that scored a 100 percent pass rate.
“I still believe we could have done better to match the 2012 record of 81 percent. But over-all the school did well considering, 30 out of 45 who wrote, passed. Others would be rewriting supplementary examinations. In short, we expect the pass rate to go up,” said Zulu.