The history of Khulisa is indelibly tied to the history of South Africa – and cultural historian Credo Mutwa, who died earlier this year.

It started in 1997, when Lesley Ann van Selm and Mutwa started a storytelling project as part of a prison intervention programme at Leeuwkop Prison.

The programme ran for almost two years and about 280 workshops were conducted.

Van Selm is still in touch with many of the original group of volunteers, two of whom have taken on positions of responsibility in prison and assist in the continuation of the programme. Others have been transferred, some drafted or released.

From these memorable beginnings, Khulisa Social Solutions today proudly celebrates its 23 years of existence – thanks to an innovative working model and the passionate commitment of Van Selm.

Storytelling
The Khulisa storytelling programme was introduced in an address to 750 inmates from the juvenile section (Medium B) in Leeuwkop. Following the address, inmates were given the opportunity to volunteer to be part of the programme. These 40 inmates became the pioneers of the Khulisa programme.

The programme centred around the following story of Sipho, from ekasi. (Ironically, none of the issues presented in this story were too far removed from the lives of most of the young people in the group.)

Sipho was brought up in absolute squalor by an uncle who was a criminal 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 he could make use of his skill in running restaurants. His confidence grew as he found that the community started to respect him for his achievements, and for the help he was giving the community. When Sipho died in a car crash, everyone mourned his passing.

Van Selm and Mutwa worked with the group for five days, during which time Sipho vividly came to life through multiple creative expressions.

During that week, it became clear that the inmates were transforming the world around them. Their beliefs and interpretation of the story dictated the way things worked for them. It was through this experience that it became clear that enormous capacity existed to change the attitudes and therefore the circumstances of young offenders.

It was then that the name Khulisa was adopted (Khulisa is an isiZulu word meaning “let the young child grow”).

The then Gauteng Department of Welfare and Population saw the value in Khulisa and as a result of its support, the programme was rolled out in several prisons across the country.

From these humble beginnings, Khulisa developed into a fully-fledged self-renewal transformation programme, with input from penologist Professor Charl Cilliers and educationalist Dr Litha Beekman, both from UNISA.

The 12-month self-guided therapy course and storytelling workshops are proving to a be unique model, and have been used internationally.

Social tech solution
Khulisa has continued to build on its reach, products and services for the past two decades.

Khulisa now offers a social tech solution, or Community of Opportunity model, that uses data science to identify, monitor and track the effectiveness of solutions identified and implemented within marginalised communities

Khulisa believes every under-served community has the potential to be a strong, vibrant place of opportunity. When community members have voice and power in the decisions that impact their communities, and express it through civic engagement and leadership, it leads to broader community and policy changes that assure racial, health, and economic equity.

Khulisa believes every under-served community has the potential to be a strong, vibrant place of opportunity. When community members have voice and power in the decisions that impact their communities, and express it through civic engagement and leadership, it leads to broader community and policy changes that assure racial, health, and economic equity.