Stellenbosch University students and prisoners from Brandvlei Prison celebrated their joint course completion on Tuesday. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town – Prisoners at Brandvlei Prison in Worcester, studying through Unisa, and Stellenbosch University students celebrated completing the first Ubuntu Learning Short Course yesterday.

The 14-week course, which brought together 15 students and 15 inmates for three-hour classes once a week at the prison, started in March.

Family and friends of the students, Correctional Services staff and academics, including former public protector and Stellenbosch University Chair in Social Justice at the faculty of law, Thuli Madonsela, attended the event yesterday.

Madonsela said the initiative was important because it sought to aid in the rehabilitation of the incarcerated.

“We tend to think we must be equally cruel to perpetrators so things will get better in our society, but they do not. I am not saying there should not be consequences. 

"However, If they are to be reintegrated, they need to be respected and not judged by their past, but what they are prepared to do as members of society.”

Spearheading the course, Dr Mary Nel, also from the university’s faculty of law, said the theme of the course was “Am I because we are? Exploring selves and communities”.

“We believe that through this project we are bridging that gap and rehumanising ourselves by breaking down preconceptions through making human contact and broadening peoples experiences,” Nel said.

Over 16 days, Nel, with colleagues from the history, English and economics faculties, hosted three sessions each.

The course was funded collaboratively through the university’s Social Impact Division and the law faculty, and has already been funded for next year.

Awande Mshotana, 24, from Mossel Bay, who is serving 15 years in prison, said the course had changed the lives of the students.

“We were intimidated; how could we share a class with Maties students? But the course opened our eyes, and indeed our hearts.

‘‘The experiences we have taken away from this will go with us as we study towards our goals and work towards leaving this place better people.”Mshotana wants to return to his home town and fight for the rights of disadvantaged communities.

First-year drama student Kelly-Robyn Morey, 20, said the course had changed her, and she was considering pursuing drama therapy as a career.

Morey said those in prison were people whose lives and choices were a product of their environments, as much as she was from a more privileged background.

Cape Times