Pollsmoor's vegetable project grows up

Time of article published Oct 22, 2007

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By Karen Breytenbach

Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town has unveiled a groundbreaking vegetable processing plant run by parolees and inmates.

The project is geared towards providing skills that will help them find work once they return to society.

The Hlumani ("to grow" in isiZulu) project started in 2005 as a small-scale initiative of the Department of Correctional Services and of Bosasa, a private catering company, to grow and process vegetables for the prison.

In the last two years, it developed into a substantial processing plant, supplying 50 tons of vegetables to the prison kitchen, with any extras and porridge leftovers being donated to a school in Khayelitsha, and an educare centre in nearby Vrygrond.

On Friday, Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour officially unveiled the Hlumani building, next to the prison's 16-hectare patch of cabbage, spinach, carrots, sweet potato, potato, beetroot and green pepper.

While the men work in the fields, the women work in the plant, sending the produce from the start of the production line, where the vegetables are washed, to the end, where the end product is packaged, refrigerated and trucked away.

Those involved earn cooking and nutrition course certificates and, depending on how long they are incarcerated, can qualify as chefs, said project manager Mitchell Bron. The qualifications are registered with the Food and Beverage Seta.

"Pollsmoor is one of the biggest vegetable producers in the department and will eventually be able to provide produce to other management areas as well," he said. This was saving the department millions in food costs. Bron said the plant had capacity for 35 women, but this could increase.

Inmates excitedly showed Balfour the ropes as he and his delegation toured the building.

Recognising the potential of the project to give inmates marketable skills, Balfour asked members of the Parole Board to approach companies on behalf of the department to find work for ex-offenders.

National Commissioner Vernie Petersen said the project, and others that would follow, was a way of ensuring that citizens got value for the billions of rand in tax money they spent on Correctional Services, because it would help rehabilitate offenders who have to be reintegrated into society.

A commitment to rehabilitation and reintegration would soon become a "requirement for companies who wished to work with the department", he said.

The Correctional Services Bill, which was adopted in the National Assembly on Thursday, would "give impetus" to such reintegration initiatives, he said.

Deputy Correctional Services Minister Loretta Jacobus said this initiative would "limit the inmates chances for relapse after release".

"We call on the economic role players to take part in the economic revival of our nation (by employing ex-prisoners). Take this model and replicate it across the country," she said.

Jacobus appealed to everyone to wear yellow ribbons to let ex-offenders know they were welcome in society.

Bosasa facilities manager Ishmael Mncwaba said a second plant was planned for Waterval Prison, near Pretoria.

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