Extract taken from “Cries Without Tears” – published in 1998 by Lesley Ann van Selm

My impromptu presentation at the COMJAT (Co-ordination of the Management of Juveniles Awaiting Trial) meeting had been arranged by Johanna Prozesky from the Department of Welfare. I had met her only three days earlier when I had accompanied cultural historian, Credo Mutwa, and his companion, a traditional healer, to a “rites of passage” workshop inNatal.

I originally met Credo in 1986 when I was assisting a group of Americans who were contemplating the making of a film based upon his book “Indaba My Children”. Totally spellbound by his cultural brilliance and storytelling skills, I spent the ensuing years working with him on the documentation of many literary works, the primary focus of which was traditional folklore. We travelled to Australia, Bolivia, Peru and England exploring the many similarities between ancient cultures. The passion I feel today for the people of Africa, their heritage and indigenous philosophies must be attributed to the profound insight I gained from him.

At the time this new dimension was added to my life, I was working on a Telkom- backed project, which was to run in partnership with the Gauteng Department of Education. Entitled “Usiko” (meaning heritage), the programme combines storytelling with multifaceted life skill activities in an attempt to enhance self-respect and mutual understanding between different ethnic groups.

My arrangement with Telkom was that, prior to the final compilation of the programme material (which included comic books, facilitator’s guides, audio-tapes and CDs), we would pilot the programme material in suitably relevant institutions. Johanna mentioned the grave problems the Provincial Welfare Departments were facing regarding the lack (or total absence) of programmes suitable for young people awaiting trial. At the time the Department of Welfare was under pressure to ensure the establishment of secure care facilities in each of the provinces to facilitate the relocation of young people awaiting trial.

The programme, now identified as “Khulisa” (a Zulu word meaning “let the young child grow”), was first tested at the Soweto-based Walter Sisulu Child and Youth Care Centre.

This multiple-care facility serves as a place of safety in terms of the Child Care Act as well as a Secure Care Centre under the Criminal Procedure Act.

The second institution selected was Leeuwkop Prison, situated to the north of Johannesburg. Medium B, the juvenile section, is located in the heart of the rolling farmland prison grounds.

The programme was introduced in an address to all 750 inmates huddled together under the slanting corrugated “half dak” (half roof). This sheltered dining area is located in the central courtyard, completely surrounded by cells, each of which accommodates between 30 and 40 inmates. Following the address, 40 inmates were chosen from the volunteers coming forward. These volunteers became the pioneers of the Khulisa programme.

The activities scheduled were based on the story of Sipho, a young township boy who fell foul of the law. Ironically, none of the issues presented in this story were too far removed from the lives of most of the young people in our group.

Sipho was brought up in absolute squalor by an uncle who was a crook and loathed by everyone around him. Sipho began to follow suit…a likely candidate for a life in prison.

Fortunately he discovered he had a flair for mathematics and that he could make use of his skill in running restaurants. His confidence grew as he found that the community around him respected him for what he had now achieved, and for the help he was giving the community. When Sipho died in a car crash, everyone mourned his passing. We worked in the outdoor visitors’ contact room for 5 days, during which time Sipho vividly came to life through multiple creative expressions. A “new type” of group behaviour emerged and by Friday the audience was exposed to, and awed by, that “something bigger” we had all become.

During the unfolding of the week, we had a sense that something magical was happening. The inmates were transforming the world around them. They were taking responsibility for what they were doing with their lives – even if it could only be for relatively fleeting moments in such a limited environment. Their beliefs, and the way they interpreted the story, dictated the way things worked for them. It was through this experience that we, as well as they, realised that collectively, an enormous capacity existed to change the attitudes and therefore the circumstances of young offenders.

The sensation of our being able to effect change, especially in a place of such “darkness”, is what has spurred emotions since these young people came into our lives. The realities of how we would be able to continue working in such dismal places did not occur to us then, nor has it been a factor since, even though, very often, the obstacles have seemed insurmountable.

Almost 2 years and about 280 workshops – conducted in several prisons – have now passed. Of the original group of 40 volunteers, 10 remain. All but 2 of these now hold positions of responsibility in various aspects of prison life as well as continuing to assist in spearheading of the ongoing programme. Others have been transferred, some drafted or released. New faces appear whenever we have a new intake; some stay, some go, but we still work twice a week with a core group of 40 prisoners. I am constantly in touch with many of the original group who are now in Leeuwkop Sections A or C – which both cater for adult prisoners. Their co-operation in the ongoing research and the work we are developing is critical.

Khulisa has now been developed into a fully fledged personal transformation programme based on the theory of “self renewal”, which has been developed in consultation with penologist Professor Charl Cilliers and educationalist, Dr Litha Beekman, both of UNISA.

Our 12-month self-guided therapy course and storytelling workshops are now in preparation for application in prisons in England, Scotland and America. The training programmes and manuals we offer are also in the process of being adapted for various ethnic groups and take into consideration different levels of literacy. All our programme material has been researched and written in concert with offenders, their stories and cast studies having played a pivotal role in its development.

A great source of inspiration in my life now is to be surrounded by our team of young parolees. Building trust and confidence – within ourselves, and between one another – has not always been easy, particularly amongst our team at the office who must truly be commended for “running with me” on this one. We’ve made our mistakes and misjudged quite a few situations but, overall, their “placements” have been very rewarding and undoubtedly successful.

Many of the young people with whom we have been working are yearning to start a new life. They know their guilt; their track record is permanent. But, in many cases, their dream is to perhaps study or work, but definitely live in peace with their family, their community and their friends – just being “normal” and in a position to make a meaningful contribution.

I hope that by sharing their dreams and worlds with us, we, together, can build a more co-operative South Africa – for the benefit of each and every one of us.


Today Khulisa promotes social change through systemic multi-stakeholder interventions; offering new hope, direction and prospects. We work with 500 NPOs and SMMEs in order to build capacity for grassroots motivated upliftment in over 400 communities through our national operations. Each year we touch the lives of more than half a million people around the country.

Khulisa’s vast geographic footprint and network of implementing partners enable us to work with communities in order to assess local needs, opportunities and skills available, to develop strategic interventions for donors and government alike. This ensures that investments made by corporates reach the hands of meaningful, sustainable, community projects, resultant in positive growth and the upliftment of the marginalised and at-risk communities.

50{fc125f1866f77698374c83416aa5c233ff7623ea2b2e07d8b59eeaffacb50c9f} of the areas in which we work are deeply rural, with our focus being on the poor and unemployed victims of rape and violence, perpetrators of crime and, from the young to the elderly, whose lives are affected by these scourges. Both Khulisa and Khulisa’s Founder and CEO, Lesley Ann van Selm, have won multiple local and international awards for the work they have done in community upliftment over the past 18 years.


Khulisa has commissioned the development of a custom built critical knowledge management and measurement system that provides accurate reporting and key learnings to funders and beneficiaries.

Khulisa’s Information Management System (KIMS) has contributed to even greater measurement of impact through cross-pollination and scaling-up in the communities we have benefited.

“We measure return on investment based on social spend”


Khulisa uses system thinking to break down barriers, focus on relationship building and to foster partnerships in the co-creation of interventions addressing community needs. We also have a network of experts to whom work is sub-contracted in accordance with donor/community needs. By doing so, our organisation is able to tap into diverse skills, knowledge we do not have and linking up with an array of volunteer partners whose knowledge and expertise “supplement shortages in the system”.

Central to Khulisa’s operational strategy is the upliftment of NPOs and SMMEs in the communities where we operate; recognising that little or no official training and support is given to such entities. We assess local NPO needs, identify potential partners to assist in areas where development is needed and, ultimately, support programme alumni or partners in the registration of the NPOs, providing an ongoing mentorship programme in order to provide sustainability.