EX OFFENDERS SPEARHEAD YOUTH VOLUNTEER PROGRAMME IN CRIME-RIDDEN KLIPTOWN
“This changed the course of the history of my life. I was having fun and getting paid for it. Something I never thought was possible.” – Martin Mahlamvu
(The quotations from Martin, in the above summary, are extracted from a book Martin is writing, called “Patience”.)
“The year 1997 is the one that changed my entire life.”
Martin Mhlamvu was a prisoner in Leeuwkop medium B Juvenile Detention Centre, four years and six months into his sentence for robbery with aggravating circumstances. This is his story and, in essence, the story of the foundation of Khulisa.
“People told me I would never make it in life. They said I was a loser and will die young.”
Then one day the prisoners were told to meet in the dining hall, because visitors were coming to talk to them about something.
“I was like “wow” as we knew that white people always visit to preach and give us something from the outside e.g. soap and cold drink. Everyone wanted to be in front so as not to lose out. People were saying ‘if it’s cool drinks I’m going to sell them and get some smokes’.”
But these visitors had nothing with them except books, big charts and koki pens. Some of the prisoners were disappointed but Martin, for some unknown reason, felt excited. Among the visitors were Credo Mutwa and Lesley Ann van Selm.
“There were two white ladies and one bigger black old man wearing sangoma beads and carrying a stick. The reason Ms Lesley Ann and Mr Credo Mutwa’s names stuck is because they striked my soul. They talked about how everyone has talent in them and they can change the world using them. They said we were not prisoners but individuals who can change for the better.”
With a history of dodging the law, Martin’s instinct was to lie and, on that first occasion, he gave a different name.
“I did not want to expose my identity and, like all the other visitors who came to visit and we never saw again, I never imagined Lesley Ann and her crew were here to build and here to stay.”
But Lesley Ann made Martin realize that he could be an instrument of change.
“I feel blessed that I’m still alive to realise the truth about myself; and the people who motivated me, guided me and loved me unconditionally.”
Martin became ambassador for a team of willing participants in a structured programme, called My My path martin
Path [GO TO PROGRAMMES – My Path], lead by Lesley Ann. It was a program that would change the lives of every participant.
“This programme unleashed the best of me as I was a free spirit, even though I was in prison. I felt no more pain. The potential, talent and team were AMAZING.”
The group started performing drama, dance and poetry, and participating in creative writing. The other juveniles started calling them “Credo “and made fun of them but they soldiered on because they were part of a team all of whom felt, deeply, that they were on a path of personal growth. Lesley suggested that the group needed a name.
“We came up with different names but one that stood out was Khulisa (child nurturing).” Through Khulisa, Martin recognized, for the first time, his own potential for leadership. Before his release from prison, he took part in a radio interview on 702. He was escorted, without handcuffs, to the studios in Sandton and he felt the power of freedom.
During Martin’s last incarceration in prison (since the original Khulisa and his final stay at Leeuwkop, Martin served several different prison sentences), Martin and Thulani Dlamini founded an NPC called the Taursrac Foundation, which is currently being mentored by Khulisa.
The Taursrac foundation’s vision is “to develop our communities in order to address unemployment through the establishment of micro enterprise”.
Taursrac coordinates a group of up to 80 unemployed youths in Kliptown, providing them with skills which can be utilised in the upliftment of their community. The group joined in early February 2014 under the leadership of Martin, in response to the NYDA YouthBuild [GO TO PROGRAMMES –NYDA YouthBuild] initiative.
Members of the group, through skills provided, have been tirelessly committed to dedicating their skills and passion to the upliftment of their community in the absence of funding and the necessary technology to assist with communication.
Planting vegetable gardens
Creation of plays that use storytelling to motivate and educate at schools.
Recycling of waste and manure for gardens.
Manufacture pf shoes (klippies slippies )
Kliptown is a particularly deprived section of Soweto. The area suffers from high crime rates andunemployment. Its residents have a poor quality of life and limited access to public and social services. Residents live in shacks and are surrounded by rubbish and raw sewage, which lines the streets. In addition to tough social issues, Kliptown’s environment poses a very serious threat to the health and wellbeing of residents and needs urgent and immediate attention.