From reform to rehabilitation

2015-06-25 06:00

THE issue of punishment versus rehabilitation has come a long way in the history of South Africa.

Disabled international runner, Oscar Pistorius (28), who got what some believe was a lenient sentence for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, comes to mind when considering our government’s methods that are now used to restore moral conduct among offenders.

Obviously, it is not as yet clear if Pistorius will be walking out of prison for good in August following an approval of the Department of Correctional Service that the rest of his sentence can be continued at home.

Apparently, he has satisfied all the requirements pertaining to good behaviour during his short stint behind bars at a Pretoria prison clinic.

However, there is still a possibility that Pistorius may be going back to prison if the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) succeeds in appealing his sentence which a legal representative of the Steenkamp family believe is sending a wrong message to the public that in South African it is possible to kill your lover and walk free in a shortest possible time (especially if you have a lot of money and the right connections or both).

But again, the post-apartheid South Africa and its world-class Constitution, which banned the corporal punishment that murdered our brothers and sisters for political crimes, has a clear commitment to true rehabilitation as opposed to punishment as a means to restore moral order among its citizens or offenders.

For instance, in 1998 our government abolished reform schools and a new concept, known as youth development academy, came into being. I am privileged to be one of the witnesses of the true character-changing and rehabilitative success of the youth academies which the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government’s Department of Social Development is running in the province, in collaboration with the Department of Education’s FETs.

When I was growing up the mere mention of the name Vuma Reformatory School, in Uthungulu District’s Umlalazi Municipality, sent shivers down my spine because it was known to be a place where the so-called “juvenile delinquents” were kept for “rehabilitation” purposes.

Since I joined the KZN provincial MEC Weziwe Thusi’s communication team, I have been wonderfully surprised to see that youths, who were in conflict with the law or who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, are practically having their lives transformed. They are getting in-service training, real jobs and even creating jobs for themselves after undergoing six-months’ training in the department’s skills training outlets called Scabazini and Vuma Youth Development Centres.

This year, Thusi visited the Uthungulu District’s Vuma Academy, which she officially opened in November, to empower youngsters with skills in electricity, plumbing, building, catering, computers, business skills, driving licenses, life skills, etc.

She went there to award certificates and trophies to 55 young people – all females - who would have otherwise been unskilled and unemployable, as they graduated this month (5 June). She also visited a neighbouring house that was built by graduating students for a destitute Dlamini family with the help of members of the private and public sectors.

The Dlaminis comprise unemployed parents who have been living in a single room with their six children who do not go to school, as well as a grandchild.

Thusi said the Dlaminis would be assisted by social workers to get identity documents in order to qualify for social grants from her department’s agency - Sassa.

I live for the day when Thusi’s department will materialise its plan of opening such youth development academies in more districts in this province.

• Simphiwe Mkhize writes in his personal capacity

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