Female prisoners at Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre re-enacting the Rivonia Trial. Pictures: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
UNISA vice-chancellor and principal Professor Mandla Makhanya spent yesterday with female inmates at Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre as part of Mandela Day.

Prison management had organised the event to give female offenders an opportunity to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s life alongside influential figures and former inmates who managed to change their lives after serving time.

The audience was made up of various stakeholders, friends and family members, who were entertained by the correctional centre’s female choir and arts group.

The arts group took to the stage to re-enact the June 12, 1964 event when Nelson Mandela and other Struggle icons were sentenced to life in prison during the Rivonia Trial.

Mandela had been arrested two years before the sentencing for conspiring to overthrow the apartheid government.

The play showed how Mandela as well as Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba and Denis Goldberg were ready to be sentenced to death when they went to court.

One of the prisoners played Judge Quartus de Wet, who sentenced the Struggle heroes in a trial followed by thousands of people around the world who would learn more about the oppressive apartheid regime.

Makhanya told the inmates that Mandela led the Struggle for freedom and went on to be known as the father of democracy in South Africa and around the world.

He was proud to inform the inmates that although Mandela was expelled from the University of Fort Hare and Wits University, he would receive his first bachelor's degree and his LLB law degree from Unisa while in prison.

Makhanya said Mandela studied through Unisa while he was serving time on Robben Island.

The inmates also had the same opportunities to change their lives while they were in prison.

Former inmate Tshepiso Williams inspired the prisoners and encouraged them to never give up but use whatever opportunities were made available to them to reshape their lives.

Williams said she was a trainee career guidance practitioner and would like to see the prisoners also do something positive with their lives after jail.

“You are bigger than prison; don't let prison defeat you. Rehabilitate yourself and not wait for other people to rehabilitate you. Use opportunities from the Department of Correctional Services to change your lives.”