DURBAN - ‘THIS is the best Christmas gift ever. It still feels like a dream.”
These were the words of a joyful Gugu Gcaba, 40, the eldest child of the Dlamini family household, after receiving the keys to a three-bedroomed house on Tuesday.
In April, the family’s house was gutted by fire started by a candle in their home in KwaMashu, E section. This led the Department of Correctional Services, through its offender labour programme, to undertake restoring the home.
The three-bedroomed house with a living room, kitchen, bathroom and a lavatory was restored by the inmates who received certificates to assist them to get jobs in the future.
The reconstruction of the now partially furnished house began in October.
Gcaba said she had gone to charge her phone at her neighbour’s house when she was told the house was on fire.
She lives with three of her children and two of her late sister’s children, and had been without electricity and water for the past nine years.
“I’m unemployed. When I couldn’t pay, the municipality cut off the water and electricity in 2012. We would collect water, charge phones and watch television at our neighbours.
“On that day, one of the children went home to look for something while we were watching TV. The child lit the candle and left it burning. The next thing I heard children screaming that there was a fire. I saw my parents’ hard work perish before my eyes.”
Since the fire, neighbours had taken them in, which took a huge burden off her shoulders so that she could focus on job hunting.
“I am overjoyed, but nervous. I feel like someone is about to wake me up from this beautiful dream. A roof over our heads is all I ever wanted.”
Ward 46 councillor Sihle Mazibuko, said it was beautiful to witness the handover after years of trying to assist the family.
“All the councillors before me had taken the initiative to assist the children. They were given food vouchers and essentials. We are grateful to Ukhozi FM and other sponsors who ensured these children have shelter before Christmas,” said Mazibuko.
Deputy Justice and Correctional Services Minister Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa said the project illustrated how good partnerships could assist the government in improving the lives of the people. Developing projects and community-led initiatives was not only beneficial to the offenders, but also supporting the communities they had wronged.
“This also encourages inmates to embrace the opportunity to be rehabilitated through skills development to become law-abiding citizens.”