Tlholoe pays back to society he let down

Simon Skiddo Tlholoe, 33, is a very courageous man.

Simon Skiddo Tlholoe, 33, is a very courageous man.

After spending six years behind bars for raping a young woman 13 years ago in Tlokweng, North West, he has mustered enough courage to go back to his community to apologise for what he had done and show that he is a changed man.

He was in his teens when he became involved in criminal activities.

But it was the crime of rape that gave him a rude awakening and prompted him to do some serious self-introspection.

In prison Tlholoe turned his life around. He completed his matric and got involved in rehabilitation programmes.

"I regret what happened because I never regarded myself as a rapist," Tlholoe says. "I never went around targeting women with the idea of violating them.

"What happened was an unfortunate incident that changed my life for ever."

While many believe that it is difficult family circumstances that often lead young people to crime, Tlholoe says his situation was different.

"I come from a very poor family but that was not the reason for my getting involved in criminal activities," he explains.

"My mother was the sole breadwinner and did her best to support me and my three siblings. I was the one who became rebellious."

After his release from prison in 2000 Tlholoe became involved in various crime prevention activities. He is on a mission to show that ex-offenders can genuinely change and contribute positively to the fight against crime.

Q: Have you come face to face with your victim since your release from prison?

A: No, but I hope my planned visit to Tlokweng will give me the opportunity to meet her, so that I can apologise. \

I am getting involved in the local crime awareness campaign to show remorse before my community for what happened and speak to the young people there about the consequences of crime.

Q: Were you easily accepted back into the community when you returned from prison?

A: It was not easy. Many ex-offenders have to deal with victimisation. People don't trust us.

I found myself having to work three times as hard to prove I was a changed man, but I did not mind.

I took that as part of my punishment and remained focused on my goal.

Q: What are other challenges facing ex-offenders?

A: Finding a job. Employers often find it difficult to employ ex-offenders.

I was unemployed for five years before a got my present job at an IT company. The jail stigma stays with you for a long time

Q: What do you think should be done to deal with the stigma?

A: People should give reformed offenders a chance and use them where necessary in the fight against crime.

I'm not saying they should be celebrated. I just think some of us are willing to contribute positively in our society

Q: What can ex-offenders do to help themselves in the integration process?

A: They should join organisations that help ex-offenders with reintegration programmes. They should also get involved in crime-fighting campaigns

Q: What has been your contribution?

A: I've been involved in various crime prevention campaigns and have visited schools in Soweto, talking to young people about crime.

I've also been involved in campaigns such as the 16 Days of Activism on violence against women and children.

I want to work closely with women's organisations so that I can be counted among men who condemn barbaric acts such as the recent incident at the Noord Street taxi rank.

Q: What advice do you give to young people during your talks?

A: I tell teenagers to focus on education because our country needs educated and focused young people to help in the fight against crime.

I encourage ex-offenders to be patient when they return to the community. I know adjusting is difficult but patience is key.

They should not despair and go back to their old ways. It is possible to live a crime-free life.