"We cannot accommodate more prisoners. To house a prisoner in South Africa costs the state on average R390 a day," writes Lorenzo Davids. Pictures: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency(ANA)
According to available data, South Africa had a prison population of 164129 as at March last year. With a capacity for 118000, the prison system is completely overpopulated.

Stated in simple language, we cannot accommodate more prisoners. To house a prisoner in South Africa costs the state on average R390 a day. That means the fiscus spends the costly sum of R11700 a month on every prisoner in South Africa.

Let’s take a moment and contrast the cost of incarceration against the cost of education in a community like Lavender Hill on the Cape Flats.

Lavender Hill is notorious for its gang violence. The 2017-2018 crime statistics in the Steenberg policing district, under which Lavender Hill falls, show that there were 85 murders in the area in a community with a population of approximately 32000 residents.

Lorenzo Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest.

Compare this devastating data to the data for Lavender Hill on Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDs). In a recent survey, Learning in Reach, an organisation that works in bringing synergistic co-operation between the various ECD centres in the Lavender Hill community, reported that there were 30 ECD centres in the greater Lavender Hill area. These ECD centres provide vital early childhood education services to approximately 1200 children between the ages of 1-6 years.

Here is the most worrying bit of the data: of the 30 ECD centres in the area, only six are registered with the Department of Social Development. This means 24 of the centres receive no form of financial aid from the state for the crucial work of shaping young lives towards a brighter future.

And here’s the other gut-wrenching piece of data: while government will pay R390 a day to house Lavender Hill’s youth in prison, it only pays R16 a day to educate children who live in one the most crime-ridden communities in our country.

It’s a known fact that ECD services form a vital part of the development of every child. We know that children who have access to quality ECD services from an early stage in life are mostly better suited to cope with life in general.

The 2017 report by Lauren-Layne van Niekerk, Michaela Ashley-Cooper and Eric Atmore titled “Effective early childhood development programme options: meeting the needs of young South African children”, states that without access to quality early childhood development that includes care, good nutrition, and appropriate cognitive and physical stimulation, too many young children are permanently stunted intellectually and emotionally.

The groundwork done by the stalwarts of the ECD movement, such as Grassroots, the Early Learning Resources Unit and the Centre for Early Childhood Development, have warned us for decades about the crime wave we will face one day.

Currently in Lavender Hill it is movements such as Learning in Reach, New World Foundation, Guardians of the National Treasure, True North and Philisa Abafazi Bethu which are holding the brightest hope for families in an ocean of gang violence and poverty.

Years ago a certain president ended his State of the Nation Address with the line, “we have a good story to tell”. The question must be asked of all our politicians: “Ladies and gentlemen, should we not have a better story to tell?”

* Lorenzo Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus