File photo: Independent Media
Retiring National Commissioner of Correctional Services Zach Modise believes the department had been successfully transformed since the end of the apartheid era.

Modise, who is expected to end his tenure in the office at the end of the month, joined the department in 1979 at the age 22, as a correctional official.

Modise said the Department of Correctional Services had improved since he joined it during the apartheid era. He said it was no longer only about incarceration.

“When I joined the department, it was dominated by white males. Africans were given minimum choice in supervising offenders. At that time, the prison system only dealt with the incarceration of inmates and its labour force, but things changed in 1994, when it changed into a correctional system ... with lots of rehabilitation and educational development. Now ... at least we have an idea of where to go,” he said.

Modise served in various portfolios in different provinces, dealing with chaos in prisons and structural imbalances.

“In 1997, I was appointed provincial commissioner in Northern Cape and had a number of challenges. One of the challenges was the case of officials who were dismissed and we had to ... ensure that we addressed their issue.

“It was regarding affirmative action, but also there was the challenge of escaped prisoners and my objective was to reduce the number of escapes in the province, especially in Kimberly.

"Another challenge was to transform the management of the correctional department in the province, as it was white-dominated, and ensure that Africans and coloureds got promoted.

“I went to the Eastern Cape as provincial commissioner in 2000 and had to deal with a number of challenges regarding maladministration. Remember that in that year, we had many challenges about maladministration.

"Later, in September, I moved to Gauteng to be part of the team that investigated maladministration and dealt with favouritism and nepotism, which was rife in the department in 1999 and 2000.

"With the Scorpions, we established a task team to investigate maladministration.

"At that time, we were fortunate because the president (Thabo Mbeki) also instituted a commission of inquiry to deal with maladministration within correctional services throughout the country. The inquiry was led by Judge Thabane Jali.”

After showing his commitment, Modise was appointed in 2014 as acting National Commissioner for Correctional Services, during which time he testified at the Oscar Pistorius trial.

“The matter of Oscar came during my acting in the office and why the decision came that I should testify was the fact that the social worker ... called to testify for Oscar was ... (painting a) picture on what was happening in our prisons, the fact that our facilities were overcrowded and the fact that there was going to be starvation taking place.

"What was important was for me to testify to indicate what progress South Africa had made in the correctional centres,” he said.

Sunday Independent