_: Programme Director
National Commissioner: Mr Tom S Moyane
Chief Operating Officer: Ms Nontsikelelo Jolingana
Eastern Cape Regional Commissioner: Mr Nkosinathi Breakfast
All other Members of the Correctional Services Family Representatives of Solulel’ Isandla Prison Ministry Members of the media Distinguished guests.
On Saturday, 4 August 2012, President Jacob Zuma unveiled a sculpture of our founding President Nelson Mandela, on the R103 outside Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, where President Mandela was arrested by apartheid security forces on 5 August 1962. The unveiling marks 50 years since Madiba was arrested, and charged, in the Rivonia Trial at the end of which he and several others were sentenced to life imprisonment.
As we gather here today, as part of the National Women’s Month commemorations, we are reminded of the words of President Mandela: “Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”
The month of August is dedicated to the memory, and legacy, of women from all walks of life who, in 1956, marched to the Union Buildings in protest against oppressive brutal pass-laws of apartheid. It is the time of the year that re-ignites memories about the brave historical struggles of the women of our country against gender oppression. Today we say, Forward to the Decade on African Women.
Given the legacy of women’s oppression in general and Black women in particular, government’s bias towards working class and rural women remains steadfast. Government has made significant progress in empowering women in the political, public and educational spheres, but the marginalisation of poor women severely compromises progress. Since the onset of democracy, South Africa has taken bold steps to institutionalise gender equality and women empowerment. National indicators show that the equality gap has decreased.
The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) Women’s Month programme is being celebrated under the theme: “Addressing Inequality and Empowering Women Officials and Offenders in DCS: together contributing towards the progressive future for women.”
Women represent the fastest growing category of offender population in our country. It is for this reason that, as government, we are prioritising issues surrounding women in conflict with the law. Since 1994, South Africa has engaged in a process to transform our penal system from one that emphasised punishment, to a system that seeks to correct offending behaviour and prepare offenders for successful reintegration into society. This is based on the recognition that you need interventions at a social level in order to correct offending behaviour.
Over the years, we have witnessed an increase in the number of women serving life sentences as a result of killing their partners. What is even more disturbing is that some of these women are serving time together with their daughters, who assisted them in committing these murders after they themselves were direct, or indirect, victims of abuse by their fathers. We are not suggesting that these women should not serve time for the crimes committed but, considering their circumstances; these women require care and counselling as part of their incarceration. In order for rehabilitation to work, these women should be assisted to deal with the trauma caused by years of physical and emotional abuse.
Our message to women is that you should not remain in an abusive relationship, until you get to the point where you take the law into your own hands and commit a crime.
There is only one society, and every person and institution must “Play Your Part” to join forces to eradicate gender inequality. There is a need for various partnerships, both within government and society in general.
As Correctional Services, we are encouraged by the interest of Solulel’ Isandla Prison Ministry here in Nelson Mandela Bay, as well as various other organised formations and individuals in other parts of the country, in these and other societal issues which we should, and must interrogate, if we are to overcome some of our social ills.
After all, as the White Paper on Corrections states, Corrections is a societal responsibility, and not only the responsibility of Government and its law enforcement agencies.
What we are focusing on, as the Department of Correctional Services, is how women already incarcerated in our facilities could play a role in educating other women about the dangers of remaining in such relationships until they are forced to take the law into their own hands. The message that we need to be sending jointly, not only as government but society as a whole, is “Don’t wait until it is too late”.
It is better to leave an abusive relationship, or marriage, than to stay until you are killed, or you kill your partner, and end up in prison. We also call on women who are living in abusive relationships to seek help now through mediation, relationship counselling and if all fails, for their sake, to walk away from such unions.
Another category we are dealing with is that of women in incarceration, after being caught in violent conflict with other women, due to competition for affection from their male partners. Again, in these instances, women need support to gain their own self esteem as part of the process to correct their offending behaviour.
One of our greatest concerns has been the issue of women who are pregnant at the time of their incarceration, and those mothers with babies younger than two years who do not have any family member to whose care the child can be entrusted. Most of these women are sentenced by magistrates, and incarcerated for petty crimes, and are serving sentences below 24 months. Some of these crimes include shoplifting for supplies for the baby, and we have directed that our heads of centres should approach the sentencing magistrates with motivation to convert their custodial sentences into correctional supervision outside the centres.
This approach is even more desirable for this category of inmates considering overcrowding, and the vulnerability of these petty offenders being recruited into more serious crimes while in incarceration. We, in fact, have directed that separate medium security facilities be established, as pre-release centres, for all inmates serving sentences of less than 24 months as most of these are first time offenders.
For those women with babies, and serving long sentences for serious crimes, we have established specialised units conducive for the upbringing of children. During Women’s Month last year, Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula opened these Mother and Baby Units in identified centres across the country. The facilities have been designed with the interest of the child in mind. The decision to create these dedicated units was motivated by protecting the wellbeing of the child. This programme is based on the principle that there is no need to punish the child just because the mother made a mistake.
If we deal with this programme from that point of view, looking at what is best for these small innocent babies, and that their mothers should be given the support and environment required for their proper upbringing, then we can appreciate this initiative. Of course, children should never, in the first place, be allowed to be brought up in the environment of a correctional centre while balancing the need for mothers not to be separated from their children. This is a balancing act we will have to negotiate.
We recently launched the “Reading for Redemption” campaign, calling on all organs of society to donate constructive books and baby products 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. Donations of baby products will be used for toddlers, younger than two years, who are in correctional centres due to offences committed by their mothers. Our goal is to help these children have a good start in life. 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 passionate about galvanising understanding for our transformative agenda from prisons to corrections, and preparing offenders to be reintegrated as functional members of society.
We, therefore, condemn the rape of a 94-year-old grandmother on 23 July near Wartburg, allegedly by a reoffender, who appeared in the New Hanover Magistrate’s Court last Friday, 3 August). We want to reiterate that, although the rate of re-offending among offenders released may be considered low, the Department condemns every single act of criminality in the strongest possible terms. One re-offender is one too many.
During the last Special Remission of Sentence, which ended on 6 July 2012, reoffenders accounted for less than 1% of the more than 43,000 probationers, parolees and offenders released. We want to make sure that our interventions contribute to the reintegration of offenders as law-abiding citizens, by ensuring that they are rehabilitated, monitored and accepted by communities. However, societal support for those who have served time in a correctional facility is critical to helping them back into a normal way of life. Society is guaranteed a victory against crime, and re-offending, if we all begin to understand the role we must, and should, play in helping those vulnerable among us lead positive and productive lives.
Programme Director, as the Department of Correctional Services, we will ensure that female offenders enjoy incarceration conditions worthy of women, and that they receive fair treatment, that they have adequate access to correctional and development programmes and that their needs unique to women are sufficiently catered for.
We will continue to do our best to improve the plight of female officials, employed by the Department of Correctional Services, and ensure that they overcome the challenges that the long male-dominated environment poses to them.
The work that we are doing in our correctional centres is about correcting the failures of society.
We call on all South Africans, and communities, to partner with government to ensure that our society will finally rid itself of the scourge of gender oppression.