By Hazel Sambo

A symposium aimed at implementing the values of ubuntu in the Department of Correctional Services' (DCS) Offender Rehabilitation Programme was held in Pretoria on Thursday.

The Correctional Services and National Heritage Council combined forces to establish a national symposium that propounds the values of ubuntu.

The word "ubuntu" means: an ethic or humanist philosophy focusing on peoples' allegiances and relations with each other, which is what the symposium is hoping to instil in offenders and the public.

Advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa, CEO of the National Heritage Council, said: "A human being is responsible to another and we should restore the ethos which we grew up with. "We have to reinstate the culture of respect, understanding and compassion among our people and change the attitude towards foreigners."

The DCS had several pre-symposium meetings with 200 offenders from the Gauteng area to discuss each individual's understanding of ubuntu, its values and importance in society today.

The offenders shared their stories of how overwhelming going to prison was and how they experienced the spirit of ubuntu for the first time in a jail cell.

Rene Botha, one of the prisoners, said that even though it was devastating to be incarcerated she would never forget the kindness of one inmate when she had arrived.

"I will never forget the humanity and support I was shown upon my arrival at the prison," said Botha.

Another inmate, Jaco Kruger, said: "I knew what ubuntu meant but I didn't know the broadest description of the word until I came to prison and I'm happier now because I have learnt a lot since I came here.

"From my personal subjective view I have realised that there is more humanity between offenders than in communities."

Zandile Mdhladhla, CEO of the Moral Regeneration Movement, said the country was faced with a morally decaying society "and we lack direction because we have abandoned the culture taught to us by our parents".

Mdhladhla added that morality was about behaviour and started from "our hearts and minds, and if we could change our behaviors we could change the world".

A member of the Gauteng provincial legislature, Reverend Motlalepula Chabaku, said people should not look down upon offenders as they too were humans.

"For us to be involved with ubuntu, we have to respect each other and make God-guided decisions in our lives," Chabaku said.

She told prisoners to use the time to transform their lives so that they can make a difference in the communities when they are released.

The DCS pilot project will be rolled out in the Tshwane area, before being incorporated nationally.