Former prisoner steps up to help young people

Sihle Tshabalala, founder of Brothers For All, Lulama Smith, Khululwa Hiko and Phathiswa Willie excited to be part of the programme.

Former prisoner, Sihle Tshabalala, who spent 11 years in jail for his involvement in a heist and house robbery, is on a mission to derail young people of Langa and surrounding areas from being lured into joining criminal activities and drugs.

The 34-year-old Langa resident is the founder of Brothers For All, a non-profit organisation, which strives to equip ex-offenders and the youth with technological skills and entrepreneurship opportunities to better their lives.

Talking to Vukani about the origins of the organisation, Mr Tshabalala said while he was in prison he was among the offenders who had been part of the rehabilitation programmes and he was eager to change his behaviour – and that of other offenders.

He said the time he spent in prison also afforded him an opportunity for introspection and to think about what exactly had landed him in prison.

He added that he realised many ex-offenders were returning to crime after their release, largely because they were excluded from society.

And so, in 2013, he launched Brothers For All, which includes a training component focused on teaching young people about computer programming, online digital marketing and entrepreneurship skills.

He said he was over the moon with excitement when his organisation was included in this year’s Open Design Festival which afforded the young people the opportunity to interact with the well established artists and hone their skills further.

He said the core mission of Brothers For All was to see young people turning their ideas into sustainable businesses.

“The world revolves around technology and it is pivotal that we empower the youth with technological skills. We believe you cannot end poverty or crime in isolation. One feeds on the other.

“We offer inspirational technology skills that compete with crime and lift people out of poverty. And we offer them to offenders, ex-offenders and at-risk youth. Graphic designers from the Netherlands are hosting a workshop for the youth.

“I was arrested when I was 19 and some of the factors that led me to crime were a lack of facilities to hone whatever skills we, as young people, had and a lack of role models in my community,” he said.

Mr Tshabalala said they have just received a “digitruck” that is fully equipped with 34 computers and is solar-powered.They would be moving around different communities, educating people about the programmes they offer, he said.

March Andrews, co-founder of Andrews Degen, a Dutch visual communication company, said they opted to be part of the Cape Town Open Design Festival because they wanted to share their skills with other countries.

He said they were inspired by the background of Brothers For All and opted to host an intensive one-week training programme with them, aimed at sharing their skills with them and also learn one or two things from them as well.

He said the workshops will focus on Langa and how they can contribute to the quality of urban life and stimulate positive change. “After the programme each student will at least create one magazine spread.

“We want them to be able to define their most promising ideas, visualise them and document them. We are teaching them how to take pictures and make drawings and how they can make a living using art”, he said.

Khululwa Hiko, 22, said she was happy that she was part of the programme. She said they need more initiatives likes these that can boost their future prospects.

“I’m learning about computer programming and I will always feel indebted to Sihle for providing this training to us for free of charge and he should continue to assist others as well,” she said.