Ex-convict feeds mind, body and souls

THULANI MAGAZI

Patients at Matthew Goniwe clinic, who do not meet government’s social relief criteria, will no longer be forced to take their treatment on empty stomachs or default on their treatment, thanks to a partnership between the Department of Correctional Services, former prisoner Dora Bell, the clinic, Ikamva Labantu and councillor Danile Khatshwa.

On Tuesday February 16, representatives of the department, Ms Bell and Mr Khatshwa launched a soup kitchen at the clinic where at least 50 needy people were fed soup and bread. The 50 are all chronic patients at the clinic. They were identified by staff as people in need of support. With enough support and funding, the numbers are expected to increase.

Ms Bell, who was released from prison on parole in 2006, said her aim was to contribute and change other people’s lives. She was convicted of murder in the early 1990s and is now on a mission to help her community. Until the kitchen has received adequate funding, Ms Bell said they would be feeding people three times a week.

Since her release from prison, Ms Bell has been involved in a number of initiatives. Among others she conducts morning prayers at the clinic. That is where the soup kitchen idea was born. “I saw a lot of suffering, people collapsing in front of my eyes because they had taken their tablets on empty stomachs,” she said. In some cases, she said, patients told her how they were forced to default because of their poor living conditions.

Ms Bell said people’s stories prompted her to act. “My wish is to see this grow bigger, and venture into other things like sewing, bead work and other things,” she said.

She added she also wanted to change people’s perceptions of ex-offenders. “The fact that I am free does not mean I can do anything. That is why ex-convicts are stigmatised and attacked in society. People must be able to look at me and see change,” Ms Bell said. “It makes me very happy to be able to contribute to other people’s lives. My soul and mind are now at peace.”

The Department of Correctional Services’ Telele Wotshela encouraged ex-offenders to get involved in their communities. He said they were always ready to support them and that they had been ecstatic when Ms Bell approached them.

“This is not only to feed 50 people. A lot of people are hungry in this area. We want to grow this project,” he said.

Facility manager Nolubabalo Fatyela said the facility had many patients, some new, some old, who lived in abject poverty, and often had to take their treatment without eating. She said this further compromised their health.