298 10.09.10 Inmates busk in the sun at Leeukop maximum Prison. Children from various schools in Johannesburg toured the facilities as part of the Gauteng Province corrections week. Picture: Believe Nyakudjara

KwaZulu-Natal - Illiterate prisoners will, from next year, have to attend basic education classes and learn skills which they will use to earn cash and support their families while serving their sentences.

Correctional Services Minister S’bu Ndebele said this in a speech to Westville Prison women prisoners during a function marking the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children Campaign at the weekend.

The move has been welcomed by the SA Prisoners’ Organisation for Human Rights, whose leader, Golden Miles Bhudu said this had been a dream for the past decade.

However, advocate Rudolph Jansen, who advises the prisoners’ organisation, said legally prisoners could not be forced into the classroom.

“The government needs to introduce its programmes and give prisoners the freedom to choose if they wanted to take up the opportunity,” he said.

Ndebele said the Adult Basic Education and Training programme was available in correctional centres across the country.

“Every illiterate prisoner will have to complete four levels of literacy learning. No one is going to be allowed to sleep, eat and do nothing in jail,” he said, adding that after finishing level four, they would be able to support their families.

He said South Africa’s 60 000 prisoners made up the biggest prison population in Africa and the ninth biggest in the world. However, South Africa had the highest inmate illiteracy rate.

Women, Children and People with Disabilities Minister Lulu Xingwana said helping prisoners earn money would help their children. - The Mercury