LEHLOGONOLO Letswalo. Jacques Naude African News Agency (ANA)
FORMER drug smuggler Lehlogonolo Letswalo, 41, said he had no choice but to dump his criminals ways.

Letswalo said he had to ignore encouragement from youngsters praising him for serving prison time in London while his family fell apart.

The Atteridgeville man said he found himself having to make a tough choice between walking home with his wife and daughter, 4, or to his criminal friends holding a bag of money.

This happened in 2009 when Letswalo was released from Her Majesty Prison The Verne. He realised that his wife had lost so much weight and his daughter afraid to even touch him after he had spent more than a year in the foreign jail.

Letswalo said he had turned his life around to become an anti-drugs activist. He helps youngsters to beat drug addiction and acquire skills to find employment.

“Choosing between walking to my wife and the guys was tough, because I did not know any other life except a life of crime. I had been troublesome since I was a child and did not know how to work hard for my money. I thank God I chose my wife and daughter.

“I was arrested for the first time at the age of 13 after beating another pupil with a brick on the head, trying to hit him on the chest. He ended up in ICU.

“My parents did not post bail so that I could learn to change my ways at the Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre’s juvenile section, but there I fell in love with the prison lifestyle. I would later beg my parents not to bail me out.”

From there, Letswalo said he was arrested numerous times and eventually found himself kicked out of various schools. His parents sent him to the Tshwane South College to acquire some skills, but there he never attended classes but ran gambling circles and sold dagga.

“My life took a turn for the worst. I started hanging around criminals and learnt about theft out of motor vehicles. As a criminal you keep learning about new criminal ways to make money and eventually I was introduced to a man who ran a nightclub and was involved in smuggling dagga to Europe.

Letswalo later started living a clean life, and founded Aga Sechaba Community Projects in Ga-Rankuwa in 2010. The organisation reaches out to 5000 unemployed people and has a job seekers and skills development centre. It received its first funding from the City of Tshwane in 2016.

He kept working and giving his all to reach those in need and today his organisation is one of the NGOs that receive funding from the City.