Ekukhanyisweni Primary School youngsters will be the most peaceful, disciplined, respectful and law-abiding in Alex.
The children affirmed this commitment in unison at a morning assembly recently after an ex-offender made them aware of the hard reality of life behind bars. It was at one of NPO Blessed Is The Hand That Giveth’s prison ministry programme in partnership with Leeukop Prison to raise awareness on high levels of crime and to instil positive values in today’s youth.
Most inmates at the prison are said to be from the township and struggle to reintegrate in society when they are released. They are said to be ostracised and judged negatively making them want to re-offend in order to return to ‘safety’ in prison.
The youngsters made the vow after learning that they could be arrested, prosecuted and jailed if a charge was pressed against them for offences generally regarded as petty. This includes pilfering, stealing from schoolmates and ‘mams’ sweets, slapping, insulting and provoking others into fights. Their gasps at the news were reduced to stone silence when Leeuwkop Prison chaplain Mpho Chaane told them of an 11-year-old who was once detained in juvenile cells for murder.
Ex-offender Michael Twala told them of the hell he experienced when he was incarcerated. “Other offenders will not be mindful of your age.”
He also told them that they would lose the most important stage of youth growth and development, miss on developing self-care skills and that they would remain chained on a bed if ever taken to a hospital for treatment. Twala urged them to stick to education and respect their teacher and other community members. “Education is the only key as Mandela said.”
Philemon Matume of the NPO told them that crime knew no age and life in prison was devastating. “It starts with involvement in gangs and association with them through tattoos or ‘tsotsitaal’ lingo which you carry into prison only to find seasoned criminals waiting to torment and abuse you.”
Matume added that they would also carry criminal records for life, making it difficult to get employment and positions of trust or professions of authority and better income.
Constable Violet Lebiya reminded the youngsters that lawlessness started from minor indiscretions and if not curbed, developed into hardcore crime like hijacking and robberies resulting in imprisonment. “Don’t steal, fight, get into gangs but spend your time wisely and aspire to be professionals of good service to self and society.”
School principal Yoli Mvuyiswa was hopeful from the lesson learnt. “I expect not to see any one of you brought in for disciplining, getting reports from surrounding homes on the theft of fruits from their trees and broken windows from your mischief.”