WHAT is it that I can do for my community? This question drives Kevin Madondo.

He has been on parole for two years after serving 13 of his 27-year sentence for armed robbery and attempted murder. The ex-convict said practical solutions were the only way to help parolees move forward.

“We need projects that will facilitate and develop brothers; working with different companies to help absorb ex-offenders into their programme skills development,” he said.

Madondo was at the launch of the parolee outreach programme of the Gauteng Department of Community Safety, Correctional Services Department, SA Police Service and the Community Policing Forum (CPF) in Soweto on Tuesday. The programme’s aim is to work with the community to help reintegrate the parolees through the skills they learnt in prison and help fight crime.

Close to 1 000 parolees have been released in the Moroka and Orlando clusters.

Madondo said reintegration was also the parolees’ responsibility. “It depends on how you portray yourself in the community. I wasn’t afraid to grow my skills and get my degree in sports science while in prison. Do you want to be pitied? We need to meet the community halfway.”

Maria Mogagabe is part of SA National Civics Organisation and lives in Rockville, Soweto. She said parolees deserved a second chance.

“I don’t have a fear as such, it’s more a concern as to what will they do that won’t tempt them back to their old ways. Government and businesses and community organisations must come together and help with skills. Someone should teach and give them employment or funding to start their own businesses. We should accept their mistakes and help make sure they don’t fall back into that trap.”

Parolees Thabiso Setlaba and Tebogo Nxumalo are from Phiri, Soweto. They said the biggest problem was the stigma. “If something bad happens in the community it is most likely to be blamed on the ex-convict who lives in the area,” said Setlaba.

He said support was an essential part to the reintegration. Nxumalo was released from prison in September last year after serving seven years behind bars. “My biggest obstacle has been the rejection. In prison we are taught skills that can secure us a future outside. Yes, we have made mistakes but we have changed our lives now and not being able to find work is hard. My plea is for the community to accept us,” he said. “There’s always going to be stigma, it is our duty to prove them wrong,” said Madondo.