Address by President Nelson Mandela at the exhibition of the Department of Correctional Services

21 June 1996

Minister of Correctional Service, Dr Sipho Mzimela;
Cabinet Ministers and Members of parliament;
Prison Authorities;
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is somehow refreshing to see this exhibition within the walls of parliament. The replica of my Robben Island prison cell brought back old memories. There were times when we spent days and nights locked up in these cells. It was also in these cells that we pursued our studies. Some like Mike Dingake and Ahmed Kathrada came in with only secondary education but left the B-section with university degrees under their belts.

This exhibition traces the changes that our prison system has undergone over the past few years. This cell depicts the brutal past of the apartheid prison system. To expect people in their fifties and sixties to sleep on mats with a limited number of blankets on a cement floor in winter shows how uncaring the system was.

The improvements exhibited here, however, hold many promises for the future. We have seen many transformations in the system and the new concepts and ideas which are displayed prove that the Department of Correctional Services is on the right track. Our nation is rapidly moving away from using prisons as dehumanising institutions. They will now be correctional centres where prisoners will be punished for their offences as well as rehabilitated from their wrong ways. Never again must they be places where inmates are exploited and dehumanised.

Dr Mzimela and I share a common concern about young offenders and we are firmly opposed to their being incarcerated in adult prisons. I would like to warmly congratulate the Minister for the successful development of the Ekuseni project. With more such institutions, we will ensure that young offenders are provided with another chance in life.

I would like to thank the Leeuwkop Prison Choir for their wonderful performance. To have a prison choir singing for parliamentarians is a sign of the changing times. No longer are they regarded as untouchables.

As prisoners don't forget that you committed offences and that you are expected to serve your sentences. But you must also remember that your future is not in the hands of warders but in yours. Your life outside prison will be what you are cultivating now. By making use of the training opportunities being offered by the Department of Correctional Services, you will increase your ability to find employment outside.

Take the second chance that our nation is offering you. You have a future in our democracy. By changing your ways and becoming useful members of your communities, you will be received warmly and with open arms by our people. For our people do understand that the task of reclaiming those who have turned to crime is a shared responsibility of government, communities, and prisoners themselves.

I would like to congratulate the Department for putting up this exhibition. It contributes in a powerful way to making more South Africans aware of what happened in the past. And it inspires hope for the future of our nation.

I thank you.


Source: South African Government Information Website