prisoners turn over a new leaf

PRETORIA Central correctional services centre came alive when more than 90 offenders from Gauteng prisons graduated in different fields of study.

The dignified and touching ceremony was attended by family, friends and Correctional Services officials.

There were ululations as the most educated man amongst his inmates was called to the stage.

Peter Masopoga, 37, received a national certificate in HIV-Aids and counselling, a national diploma in public relations management with eight distinctions and a bachelor's degree in communication science with 11 distinctions.

He is serving a 20-year sentence he got in 2001 for robbery and possession of an unlicensed firearm.

"I achieved all of this through hard work. Prison was an eye opener for me, I learned that without education the doors will remain locked for you," he said.

His mother Rossinah, 52, said of her eldest son: "I am very happy that he finally learned that crime does not pay. He was a good child but peer pressure got the best of him. He was a genius at school, he was promoted from Grade 8 to 9 and from 10 to 12. I was hurt and disappointed about what he did but I believe he learnt from his experience."

Another graduate, Isaac Sipho Tshabalala, 31, who is serving life imprisonment for murder and robbery got his LLB degree.

"I learned the importance of the law in prison and I would love to be a lawyer for the state one day. I hope that I will be considered for parole after serving 20 years so that I can have a chance to change my life," Tshabalala said.

Overall achiever, Riku Nortje, 35, was sentenced to life for murder in 1996. He received a bachelor degree in computers and mathematics and honours in computer science.

"My crime was economically motivated, I did not have a job. But I know better now. Today is special to me, I get to spend time with my family and convince them that I can turn my life around. Education helps one build character," he said.