Address by President Nelson Mandela at official opening of Ekuseni Youth Development Centre, Ekuseni

19 November 1996

Minister of Correctional Services, Dr Sipho Mzimela;
Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Frank Mdlalose;
Members of the Ekuseni Management Committee;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen;
Young Students,

It is a great honour for me to see - here at Ekuseni - the realisation of a vision that was born in me during my own years of confinement.

The prisons of apartheid which we have inherited and which we are committed to changing, are not conducive to the rehabilitation of the prisoners. Recent government reports have confirmed the overcrowding, inhumane living conditions and staff shortages which work against rehabilitation. These factors contribute to a recidivism rate which some claim is as high as 94 percent. The Inter-Ministerial the so-called "places of safety" where young criminals or those awaiting trial are often held.

The devastating effects of apartheid were felt harshly by young convicted persons. Most of these young people, being black, were not only denied their basic human rights like the majority of South Africans. They were also denied the opportunity to empower themselves, to learn skills, to be reintegrated into society. Most were doomed to remain on the margins of society all their lives.

At Ekuseni we are starting to break this mould, revolutionising the way in which our society treats young prisoners. With access to education, vocational training aligned to the world of work and an environment that will nurture the individual's self-worth, these young prisoners are offered the chance to re-enter society on a new track. They will have the opportunity to play a constructive and responsible role as individuals in their communities.

Ekuseni presents us with a new model both in what it sets out to do, and in the way these goals are being achieved.

When we launched this initiative in October last year, we set in motion a process of consultation and cooperation amongst various participants. Each of them brings their own perspective and strengths to this joint venture. And as they cut a new path and create a new model, each has learned from the others, contributing to the greater good of all.

Tribute must be paid to the five major players in the partnership responsible for the development of Ekuseni, for their unique and critical contributions.

Through the Private Sector initiative (the PSI), 20 leading South African companies have together contributed close to 44 million Rand to make the development of Ekuseni possible.

The Joint Education Trust (JET), an alliance of the PSI with business, political and community organisations is broadly representative of civil society. JET is responsible for the educational and vocational curricula for Ekuseni and for the financial and administrative control of all project funds.

A third partner is Rand Afrikaans University, who have designed the development programmes and the management model for Ekuseni.

The Minister of Correctional Services, Dr Sipho Mzimela has given overall guidance to the development of all elements in this project, carefully balancing the needs of discipline and security with a call for a compassionate and resourceful environment. His department will be responsible for the daily operations of the centre.

Lastly it was the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, as the patron of the project, that inspired the vision for Ekuseni. The project promotes the principal aim of the Children's Fund - to help repair the ravaged fabric of our youth's social and economic circumstances by unleashing their capacity to engage positively in every aspect of life. The project also confirms the Fund's belief that alliances with other agencies can lead to dynamic partnerships which produce creative solutions to complex problems.

There are also other who have made significant contributions to Ekuseni. Project and construction managers, AMDEV, have seen a fast track building programme through to completion. Cohen & Gmeiner provided policy and procedure manuals. Murray and Roberts has provided classrooms. Unisys South Africa has donated computer equipment, software and services. Microsoft has contributed software, training and support.

The Board of Management of Ekuseni, representing the five diverse partners - with different points of view but sharing a common goal - exemplifies this kind of inclusive partnership which enables us to harness resources from all sectors of society to build our new nation.

This partnership will manage the project for two years to ensure that its ideals are attained. The will manage the project for two years to ensure that its ideals are attained. The programmes will be monitored and evaluated on behalf of the Management Committee by JET and RAU. This is a critical aspect of the project if its effectiveness is to be assessed. It will provide a basis for modifying and refining this pilot programme into a successful model that brings much lower rates of recidivism amongst young offenders and equips them to re-enter society and find -productive work. The Ekuseni model can then be replicated in similar centres around the country.

Indeed, Ekuseni presents a model for us all. As an exemplary process of nation building it affects each one of us here today - the businessperson, the unionist, the civil servant, the teacher - as much as our young students here today.

In conclusion, may I say a few words to our students. Because of the serious offences you committed in the past, you are now prisoners and are expected by society to serve your sentences.

But your future is in your own hands. The life you lead after your release will be determined by your efforts now. Society is giving you a second chance. Seize the opportunity and you will find that society welcomes you with open arms. By acquiring new skills and becoming law abiding citizens you can become part of our nation's efforts to create a better life for all.

I thank you.

Nelson R. Mandela
Founder & Chairperson
Nelson Mandela Children's Fund

Issued by: Nelson Mandela Children's Fund

Source: South African Government Information Website