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An offender must leave a correctional facility with a skill in one hand, and a certificate in the other, says Minister of Correctional Services Sibusiso Ndebele.
Pretoria - President Nelson Mandela reminded us that offenders are part of society’s problem, and rejecting them is not going to solve crime.
Corrections is not the sole responsibility of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS). Corrections is a societal responsibility.
As the government, we will not win the battle against crime, and reoffending, if victims of crime, and the religious community, are not at the centre of the justice process. Religious leaders must play a more active role to heal victims of crime, and rehabilitate offenders so that they return to society as better human beings.
All faith communities – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others – must contribute towards ensuring that offenders are afforded a second chance.
The Bible says that we should ask for forgiveness, and also forgive those who trespass against us.
The religious community must: encourage moral regeneration, coupled with cultures and basic values; be more prominent in rehabilitation; play a major role in the reintegration of ex-offenders; provide social and economic assistance to families of those behind bars, and, as far as possible, survivors of victims of crime – when breadwinners are incarcerated or have been murdered, their loved ones are vulnerable to economic and other forms of crime.
We cannot allow the poor to be punished because of lack of money. On July 23, we learnt about a 20-year-old woman at the Worcester Female Correctional Centre, sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment, or a fine of R300, for contempt of court. Because she doesn’t have money, she must serve her sentence. Where is the church? We cannot allow criminality to breed whilst the church is in every community. We all have a duty to play in the eradication of poverty as Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and indigenous cultures dictate. Madiba says “overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice”.
Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made, and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. There is a correlation between lack of education, poverty and crime. In Cuba, Fidel Castro said: “We have found that there is an inverse relation between knowledge, culture, and crime; for example, the greater the knowledge, culture and access to university, the less the crime. You’d be amazed if you saw how many young people between 20 and 30 years are in prison, where, despite the enormous number of professionals and intellectuals in this country, only 2 percent of those in prison are the children of professionals and intellectuals”.
Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace. The DCS has made education compulsory for offenders to reduce recidivism.
An offender must leave a correctional facility with a skill in one hand, and a certificate in the other. The hand that previously held an Okapi, to harm others, must be transformed into a hand of a tailor, carpenter, builder or writer.
Offenders are renovating schools, building homes for the indigent, farming and sharing their produce with less fortunate families. With the religious fraternity, we can achieve still more.
Through our Reading for Redemption programme, offenders are encouraged to read extensively.
It was through books that Malcolm X, who had sunk to the very bottom of American society, began to re-evaluate his experiences.
Let us pray hard for the rebirth of the family institution, especially the African family, which has continued to disintegrate over decades. To put our nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.’
The Bible, in Hebrews 13, tells us to remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners.
From Madiba we also learnt that “(we) will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than (we) will through acts of retribution”. Mahatma Gandhi also cautioned us that, “an eye for an eye, ends up making the world blind”.
Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. Missing an opportunity to visit offenders could mean missing an appointment with a future Apostle Paul, a Dorothy Nyembe, a Steve Biko, a Robert Sobukwe, a Nelson Mandela, an Albert Luthuli, a Mahatma Gandhi, a Malcolm X.
It was partly because of their religious convictions that men like Gandhi, Sobukwe and Mandela came out of prison virtually unscathed, and saintly, although they admit that they were never saints.
Through our Victim-Offender Dialogue (VOD) programme, the Worcester bomber met families of the deceased. There are many more encouraging stories happening through this Afrocentric approach to restorative justice. Their pain, injury and hurt does not go away when the sentencing of offenders begins.
This carefully managed process, whose participation is voluntary, allows victims of crime to interact and engage with those who have wronged them. The offender has the opportunity to say sorry to the victim, but the victim has no moral obligation to accept the apology.
We are encouraging offenders to reflect on their experiences, and write their stories. This year, the DCS published a collection of poetry entitled Unchained.
Bridgette Nxele, in her poem A Rehabilitated Woman With Hope, writes: “When I walk out of these doors; I will be a light pruned by prison bars; You will hear my dreams of change; My hands will transform life with touch of change.”
The religious community is best positioned to play a decisive role in setting right the hearts, minds, and souls of South Africans. For as long as we do not make moral regeneration a central theme of our conduct, we will find ourselves having progressed one step forward, and regressed 10 steps backward.
* Sibusiso Ndebele is the Minister of Correctional Services.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.