Nontsikelelo Msuthwana, who spent two years and eight months in prison as an awaiting trial prisoner, says she is being harassed and demeaned by her neighbours because she has spent time in jail.
The 52-year-old Gugulethu resident told Vukani that life took a difficult turn for her when she was arrested in 2008 for assaulting her ex-boyfriend after they had had a nasty argument.
When she was arrested, she told Vukani, she had faced charges of attempted murder, but later on they were changed to assault.
While she was never sentenced to jail time for her crime, she was held at Pollsmoor prsion during her trial and released towards the end of 2011 to serve three years under house arrest – until 2014.
The mother of two said when she got out of prison, she was over the moon with joy and excitement and turned over a new leaf.
However, her joy and excitement were shortlived because some of her neighbours, rather than welcoming her back, made her life a miserable.
Battling to contain her tears, Ms Msuthwana described her life as a hell, adding that ever since she got back she had not found peace because her neighbours regularly reminded her of her arrest, ridiculed her and referred to her as “Unontrongo” which loosely translates to “jail bird”.
Ms Msuthwana said some neighbours have gone as far as dumping rubbish bags in her yard while chanting that they do not want to live with a person who comes from jail.
At night, she said, they throw stones on her roof.
She told Vukani she eventually applied for and was granted, an interdict against some of them. “I had a fight with my boyfriend and he opened a case against me. I have served my time in jail and I have learnt my lessons and actually prison has helped me to change my bad lifestyle but I do not know why these people are making my life a hell. I’m being discriminated because I was arrested. I’m pleading to anyone to help me.
I’m being buried while I’m still alive,” she said.
Chairperson of Intsika Yabahlali commnunity organisation, Vusumzi Jonas, said they were aware of the matter and advised Ms Msuthwana to report the matter to the police.
He added that they were also planning to organise a meeting between her and her neighbours in an attempt to find an amicable solution.
Social worker at the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders (NICRO), Mihlali Nyangintsimbi, said before the release of Ms Msuthwana they should have been informed in order to facilitate an integration between her and the community.
Ms Nyangintsimbi said they should have been given the opportunity to prepare the community to welcome Ms Msuthwana to minimise the stigma and to foster the spirit of acceptance.
The reality, she added, was that some of Ms Msuthwana’s neighbours don’t know her true story.
She said their fundamental role was to ensure that no ex-offender was being treated like an outcast in the community. “ We understand that it is difficult for the community to welcome back ex-offenders but we need community-based organisations to work with us to change the mindset of the residents. After all, they are human beings like us, they make mistake but we need to make them feel welcomed in order to ensure that they don’t make the same mistakes again.
“We are willing to assist her and we will do every thing in our power to help her,” she said.
Mncedisi Thwalo, chairperson of Grassroot Human Movement, a human rights non-profit -organisation, said the matter was reported to them, but he has asked Ms Msuthwana to be patient with them as they were working on other cases which had been reported to them before her one.
He added that the organisation had they had advised Ms Msuthwana to attend their weekly meetings but she stopped attending before they could deal with her matter. They were, however, still willing to assist her.
Vukani’s attempts to get comment from Gugulethu police station were unsuccessful.