Silver & Co carry slivers of hope

Former goalkeeper Silver Shabalala and his colleagues are preparing prisoners  for a better life. (Photo: Enrico Bhana)

Former goalkeeper Silver Shabalala and his colleagues are preparing prisoners for a better life. (Photo: Enrico Bhana)

To see this article as it appeared in the The Sunday Independent on 3 March 2013, click here)

HAZEL MEDA

FOOTBALL GREAT Silver Shabalala admits he was a little anxious when he first visited a prison.

“The prison officials would tell us: ‘Don’t get close to these guys. These guys were not found in a church. They have done wrong’.”

But once he started interacting with the inmates, the former goalkeeper (for Jomo Cosmos, Dynamos, Black Leopards and Amazulu) realised that “These guys are people, they are brothers, and I think I can do something to touch their lives”.

Shabalala is the Head Coach of Footballers 4 Life (F4L), a non-governmental organisation which provides health and life skills training to prisoners and which is funded by the USAID Tuberculosis Program South Africa.

Former footballers Enrico Bhana, Charles Motlohi and Collen Tlemo and wellness coach Sipho Phiri work with Shabalala to deliver the F4L curriculum to inmates. The course covers topics such as personal finance, decision-making, problem solving, parenting, and HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) prevention and management.

The Footballers 4 Life coaches (Photo: Enrico Bhana)

The Footballers 4 Life coaches (Photo: Enrico Bhana)

Besides playing football with some of their heroes, inmates attend F4L sessions twice a week for three and a half months. They also have to complete homework assignments.

At the end of the course, proud inmates receive a certificate from F4L ambassadors and football legends like Doctor Khumalo, John “Shoes” Moshoeu, Mark Williams and Eugene Zwane.

Shabalala says the prisoners really value the F4L certificate, which they use when applying for parole and putting together their CVs.

He says the course also helps in the rehabilitation process.  “It gives them an opportunity to look at themselves as men, look at what they’ve done, where they want to go after prison, what they want to achieve in life.”

Sibusiso Dlamini*, an inmate in Krugersdorp prison, says the course has made him more open-minded, considerate and thoughtful. “It has taught me what it really means to be a man and how I can develop myself into a better person.”

Fellow inmate Herbert Mokoena* also says the F4L programme has had a dramatic impact on him. “It changed my life in terms of wanting to know myself better and to fight the demons in me.”

F4L project coordinator Dr Darren Peck is particularly proud of the work which F4L has done on TB, a disease which affects many prisoners. The organisation screens prisoners for TB during the F4L classes and football tournaments.

“We have also set up Directly Observed Treatment (DOT) support groups, which are run by the inmates,” Peck says. Inmates encourage those who are sick to take their medication correctly.

Peck also plans to use soccer to bring together senior Correctional Services officials, warders, inmates and other interested parties to discuss TB.

“We have a Footballers 4 Life’s five-aside soccer team and we want to use it as a networking tool for stakeholders in the eradication of TB. We want to bring them together for a five-aside tournament and then turn it into a mini-conference.”

*Inmate names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Hazel Meda is a member of the Wits Justice Project, which investigates miscarriages of justice.

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About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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