Kimberley's inmates say book club keeps them mentally fit

2017-03-17 10:38
From left to right : Moeketsi Ramolahlwane, Tshiamo Ngakaemang, (libarian Kediemetse Radebe, Khotso Leshole, Louis Engelbrecht and Phuthuma Msuthwana. (Ntozakhe Mthukwane)

From left to right : Moeketsi Ramolahlwane, Tshiamo Ngakaemang, (libarian Kediemetse Radebe, Khotso Leshole, Louis Engelbrecht and Phuthuma Msuthwana. (Ntozakhe Mthukwane)

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Kimberley - Residents serving time behind the high walls of the local jail have turned to books to keep mentally fit, in preparation for a better life once released.

Offenders at the Tswelopele Correctional Centre in Kimberley, Northern Cape, have access to a high school which caters for Grades 7 to 12.

The school is accredited by Umalusi and uses the CAPS curriculum. The principal Oduetse Malefo, tells News24 that correctional services employs qualified teachers.

“We have realised that South Africans generally do not read books. It is already hard for the average person to get a job. We have 19 book clubs aimed at capacitating offenders with skills in our facilities throughout the Northern Cape region,” he explains.

The correctional centre, as authorities prefer calling it, boasts a well-resourced library with books and newspapers from donors and local residents.

Tswelopele, meaning “progress”, is a new generation and model correctional facility with over 3000 inmates.

In an attempt by authorities to depart from the prison paradigm, they use words like “inmate”, “resident” and “offender”.

Correcting wrong behaviour 

“If you call a person 'prisoner' he will behave as such. Our new system focuses on human rights and seeks to correct the wrong behaviour which is a break from the past punitive system,” the facility’s head Johannes Hendrick says.

Despite this, the facility has tight security measures which can even detect the presence of a cellphone.

Librarian and book club co-ordinator Kediemetse Radebe explains that their material is biased towards indigenous languages.

“We even have prisoners busy with their manuscripts in Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, Afrikaans, and English.”

The book shelves include titles like Escaping Trauma, an anthology of poetry by local award- winning author and journalist Sabata-Mpho Mokae. Mokae regularly holds readings at the facility.

Sol Plaatje University vice-chancellor Yunus Ballim says his institution will continue to support the centre.

“It’s a known fact that crime syndicates rely on ex-offenders to recycle their activities. Ex-offenders can't be condemned to a permanent life of rejection. We are donating books to keep them afloat,” he says.

Moeketsi Ramolahlwane, 41, of Gauteng, is in his seventh year of a life sentence for armed robbery and murder.

“I'm currently reading If You’re Not Growing You Are Dying by David Molapo. Hopefully I will gain enough skills as part of my sentence plans,” he quips.

Father of three Tshiamo Ngakaemang, 43, who is serving a 10-year sentence, says the book club has boosted his public speaking confidence, which will help him after his release.

Phuthuma Msuthwana, 29, said he was excited that he would soon be released.

“I've learnt about character construction from the book club. We are more than 50 in a cell. I know all different human characters. I will be writing stories in Xhosa to show my acquired skills,” he says.

Read more on:    kimberley  |  prisons  |  good news

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