_: South Africa marks the 2012 Heritage Month, under the theme: “Celebrating the Heroes and Heroines of the Liberation Struggle in South Africa”. The theme reminds, and reconnects, the nation with its rich and diverse collective liberation heritage. We will also dedicate this month to honour, and express our gratitude to, those who dedicated their lives to ensure that our country achieved freedom and democracy that all of us enjoy today.
We are gathered here at St. Alban’s Correctional Centre in Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape to officially launch the “Reading for Redemption” campaign, as well as open an Integrated Resource Centre. It is significant that the official launch of the “Reading for Redemption” campaign is being held here in the Eastern Cape, a province rich in Literary Heritage. It was here that the very first publishing house, the Lovedale Press, was established in 1824.
The establishment of this publishing house led to the first translation of the Bible into an African Language in South Africa. The complete version of the Xhosa Bible was published in 1859, thus standardising the written language and unleashing a flurry of publications in isiXhosa. Newspapers like Imvo Zabantsundu, founded by John Tengo Jabavu as the first black-owned newspaper in 1884, created platforms for writers to tell the stories of their people.
As we mark the celebration of 100 years of selfless struggle, we know, for instance, that part of the reason Sol Plaatje was elected as the first Secretary General of the South African National Native Congress, today known as the African National Congress, is the fact that he was a writer. Plaatje used his writing to empower himself, document his people’s history and uplift his community.
As government, we are passionate about galvanising understanding, and support, for our transformative agenda from prisons to corrections, and preparing those of our offenders who need to get ready to be reintegrated as functional members of society.
Through the “Reading for Redemption” campaign, we are calling on all organs of society to donate constructive books to aid the Department’s path towards the rehabilitation of offenders. Reading is one of the best ways to build character. The books will be used to instil a culture of reading and learning in offenders. We want to encourage inmates to read, read, read and study, study, study.
The emphasis of Correctional Services is on correction, and all of us can be corrected. We must create an environment in correctional facilities that contributes to offenders becoming better than what they were, thereby ensuring a better South Africa.
We are pleased to announce that, within two months, several organisations and individuals have heeded our donation calls. These include Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, Van Schaik Bookstore who already donated books worth R428,738.00 for St. Albans and will be donating more books today valued at more than R600,000.00, the national Librarian as well as Rotary.
In addition to St. Albans, Integrated Resource Centres will also soon be opened at Correctional Centres at Helderstroom and Goodwood in the Western Cape, Westville in KwaZulu-Natal, Upington in the Northern Cape, Baviaanspoort in Gauteng and Rooigrond in the North West.
As the reading culture in our country remains minimal, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) is working towards promoting a culture of reading and writing in our correctional centres. We want to project reading as a fun activity that expands horizons of knowledge, for both offenders and officials. This includes a sustained reading promotion strategy, as a widespread culture of reading and writing will assist our offenders to meet the demands of a knowledgeable society.
Through a collective effort, we must instil a love for reading and create a reading community in our correctional centres in South Africa. We are also working towards Book Debates, where offenders are given books to read and, thereafter, engage in discussions and debates about the books. After my address today, we will engage with one of our inmates about a book he read last week. We are looking forward to this kind of engagement, including that such activities will become part of the daily lives of our offender communities.
In Brazil, for example, prisons are offering an interesting option to select prisoners: read and write essays on works of literature, philosophy and science to reduce sentences by four days for every book completed. Prisoners have one month to read each book and write book reports that must “make use of paragraphs, be free of corrections, use margins and legible joined-up writing”.
The programme allows avid readers to shave up to 48 days off their sentence every year. Statistics, and analysis, show some strong links between literacy and crime levels. Next week, we will lead a delegation to Brazil to gain more information and insight into this and other related programmes.
As stated in the White Paper on Corrections, the ideal Correctional Official should embody the values that DCS hopes to instil in the offender, as it is this official who is to assist, and facilitate, the rehabilitation processes of the offender. As such, the competencies of the ideal Correctional Official calls for life-long learning and must be a unique combination of specific qualities inclusive of experience, expertise, professional ethics, personal development and multi-skilling. A combination of these qualities is central to the achievement of the Department’s strategic objectives.
We must ensure that we focus on the vast bulk of inmates – young Black men. We have approximately 53,000 youth in our remand detention facilities and correctional centres, and a large number of inmates who, while not under 25, are still in the prime of their life. Key to rehabilitation is empowering offenders to have skills to function effectively in society on their release but, equally important, is to ensure that offenders are actively involved in productive activity while they serve their sentences. We want to see offenders proudly contributing to their self-care.
To this end, 1,873 offenders are currently studying towards their Grade 12/Matric. Since 2006, certain Correctional Centres, such as Usethubeni Youth School at Westville in Durban, have been achieving an above 90% average matric pass rate, and we are confident that we are on track towards a 100% pass rate.
Nine hundred and ninety one (991) offenders are studying towards post-matric/higher education and training qualifications, 4,042 towards further education and training (FET) college programmes (including electrical engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering and marketing) and 3,853 towards skills development programmes (including basic business skills training and entrepreneurship). From next year (2013), it will be compulsory for every inmate to complete ABET level 1 to 4.
We are also encouraged by steps that the Department has taken towards establishing a trading entity, which will impact positively on utilisation of offender labour. Through this trading entity, we can offer our customer base consisting of government , NGO’s and the private sector a wide variety of products and services, ranging from furniture, clothing, printing, signage, steel works, food products, agriculture and many others.
In this regard, we are entering into dialogue with the private sector to establish what we call after-care centres – centres for parolees and ex-offenders where they are able to be involved in productive labour. We will host a seminar with business leaders, and key stakeholders, on how we can address the stigma that makes the reintegration of offenders into the community such a difficult process for offenders and an onerous task for the department. The trilogy of offender, victim and community must come to the fore.
In South Africa, about 71% of offenders are incarcerated for violent crime. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, South Africa has by far the largest inmate population in Africa (approximately 146,000). Nigeria, with a prison population of about 40,000, has one third of the number of inmates that we incarcerate in South Africa, and has an incarceration rate of 31 inmates per 100,000 people in the country.
South Africa ranks about 18th on the world list of incarceration rates, and in Africa seems to have even overtaken Botswana in the last couple of years – we incarcerate about 316 people out of every 100,000 citizens. In comparison, USA has the highest incarceration rate of 743 people out of 100, 000, and Russia, the second highest, has 568 people inside out of every 100,000.
From the 24th to 30th September annually, Corrections Week is commemorated to create awareness amongst communities, and other stakeholders, that Corrections is a Societal Responsibility. The emphasis is on communities taking responsibility for correcting offender behaviour, through foundations units in the family and community.
Correctional centres must not be places for locking people up and throwing away the key, not for letting offenders rot in cells; but places where offenders have to face up to what they have done to victims, engage with restorative justice processes, complete corrections and development programmes, become involved in production workshops, bakeries, farming and return to the community with skills.
When the cell is locked behind an inmate, he or she has nowhere else to turn but to focus their eyes on the way out of that cell: not through escapes, but through breaking the cycle of crime and reintegrating into the community. Correctional Services is the last hope for victims of crime, and for many of the individuals sentenced for crime. All offenders, except for lifers who are considered inappropriate for parole, return to society at the end of the sentences. It is the responsibility of us all to ensure that they are in the best state to be constructive members of society upon their release.
In conclusion, let me re-iterate that Corrections is a Societal Responsibility. Building on that, our vision is of a trilogy of offenders, victims and the community, in partnership with each other and with the Department, to break the cycle of crime. This trilogy underpins the moulding of a new person, against all odds, that a life of crime has thrown at them.
There can be no sustainable rehabilitation, and reintegration back into society, outside the trilogy of offender, victim and the community. Let us continue to work together to build a reading offender population, because a reading nation is an empowered nation. As I conclude, may I call upon one of our inmates, Batandwa Mase, who is going to tell us about a book he read during the week entitled “My Father, My Monster” by McIntosh Polela.