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IT was an eye-opening day for more than 50 youngsters who toured Leeuwkop Prison in Bryanston yesterday, the first of several youth projects to be carried out by the City’s public safety department during Youth Month.

Those on the tour were between the ages of 15 and 18. They had been identified as at risk of crime and as problematic by their teachers. The idea was for them to get a better understanding of what may happen if they continued on such paths.

Gathering at the public safety headquarters in Martindale, in Joburg’s west, pupils from Westbury High School, Matshidiso Secondary School, JSS Langlaagte and emergency management services cadets were addressed by the portfolio head of public safety, Sello Lemao.

He warned them that the tour was nothing like going to the beach in Durban. “When you come back we are expecting you to be true ambassadors of the City,” he said, urging them to observe prison conditions and promise that they would never go to prison as inmates. “What we are advocating as community safety is a secure and safe environment.”

He wished them a happy Youth Month, encouraging them to carry the legacy of the youth of 1976 and contribute towards making the city secure.

First up at the prison, the pupils watched a piece of educational theatre written and performed by inmates. It explored the dangers of peer pressure and the extremes to which they can push an individual. The play was about a 17-year-old schoolboy, who is pressured by his friends to join a gang. But to be accepted as an official member, he first has to kill someone. Under the influence of drugs and pushed by peer pressure, he carries out this task – and is arrested the same night.

To underline the message that one should not do something to be sent to prison, the play focuses more on the treatment of a prisoner when he arrives in jail. For the boys, the scariest aspect was not only being beaten, but was being turned into a “wife” by other inmates against your will.

With the pupils still in shock, they were taken to meet a highly motivated prisoner. Saxon Madoda Dlamini is in his early 50s; he has been an inmate for 13 years. He was sentenced to 81 years in prison for the murder of three people in his hometown in Kwazulu-Natal, which he said was politically related. His sentence was later reduced to 35 years.

Learners tour Leeukop Juvenile sectionLearners tour Leeukop Juvenile CentreSpeaking to his rapt audience, Dlamini emphasised that crime did not pay and that time wasted could never be regained. The former businessman encouraged them to focus on their studies and learn from him.

Dlamini, who wore a neatly ironed, Correctional Services uniform, spoke perfect English. He had written and passed his matric in prison, and was now studying entrepreneurship through Unisa. He quoted many authors in his talk, and if it was not for his orange prison pants, it would have been easy to mistake him for an academic.

With these words of wisdom from the aspirant author still ringing in their ears, the pupils were taken to the terrifying juvenile section of the prison. Here, they saw youngsters in their peer group, who are serving up to 15 years for a variety of crimes. All the inmates in the juvenile section are under 21 years old.

They walked past the entrance of each cell and the inmates flocked to their doors to get a glimpse of the outsiders. In a peculiar way, it was like being a celebrity walking a red carpet while fans screamed with excitement. And the noise got truly frightening as some inmates began banging their walls.

One of the prisoners, who is serving 10 years for rape, painted a picture of life inside. He said it was survival of the fittest behind the prison bars as there were different gangs that were usually in conflict. Prison warders said Leeuwkop Juvenile had the highest number of stabbings in the province.

A boy who had been stabbed just two days before was brought in to show his wound, marked with six stitches across his chest. He had been stabbed with a piece of glass from a window – for refusing to allow another inmate to sodomise him.

Given the trauma of their experiences in the juvenile facility, some of the pupils were relieved when access to the maximum security section was denied because only a few warders were on duty and the safety of the visitors was at risk.

Speaking about the tour, Phanda Ndlovu, 18, from Matshidiso Secondary School said he learnt that giving in to peer pressure could lead to extreme punishment. “It was my first and last day here. This is not a good place to be,” he added.

Jailhouse gang
Mpho Nkoe, a teen from JSS Langlaagte, said prison was not a place for him because living conditions were extremely bad. The thought of sleeping on a steel bed without a mattress or foam because gang leaders demanded these items, was a terrible thought for him.

Yet it was not his first time in jail – and previously he had not been a visitor, but an inmate. He spoke about his six-month sentence in 2009 for rape in the juvenile section in Sun City, as Johannesburg Prison is infamously known. “I would not encourage anyone to do crime because life in there is horrible,” he added.

He added that although the tour brought back bad memories, it was also a reminder never to make such a costly mistake.

Eugene Williams, a teacher from Westbury Secondary School, said he thought the tour would benefit his pupils as they now knew it was not what they thought it was. “Because the story that we get when some of our community members come back from prison … they tell young ones beautiful stories from prison,” he said.

Already he had noticed a slight change in them during the tour. “They didn’t remove their ties like they usually do as soon as they get out of our sight. Today not even once did that happened.”

The 18 learners from his school who had been on the tour would have to spread the news to the rest of the school.

The tour was just one of the many programmes that will be taking place during the month. All the programmes will be aimed at reaching 2 000 youngsters in Joburg.

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