By Ray Maota
Convicted offenders are getting a new lease on life while making a positive contribution to their community and helping to create a greener, safer and more beautiful South Africa.
Hlumelelisa – an Nguni word meaning “a new spirit” or more literally, to heal from a broken bone – is an NGO founded by Paul Bruns, who is also its director. Bruns, a former marketing executive, set up the organisation in 2003 to rehabilitate convicted offenders by giving them horticulture skills.
The non-profit organisation has been working at the Leeuwkop Correctional Facility in Johannesburg for the past 10 years, during which time it has trained over 200 prisoners. Five of its current facilitators are previous participants of the nine-month training programme.
Prisoners who complete the course receive a recognised horticultural qualification, and one former offender has started his own nursery. Six others are employed by a landscaper.
“We’ve all gone through those dark patches and I know for me when I went to nature I discovered myself and God, and I discovered there was purpose,” says Bruns. “I’ve always had this idea of lining the township with trees because trees have always been a passion of mine.”
The idea for Hlumelelisa was sparked when he saw young men at Leeuwkop sweeping leaves. That’s when he realised this passion for trees was not all about nature, but was also about a love for people.
The programme runs in five prisons, all of which have their own nursery and training facility. “I listen to [the participants] and I don’t become their friend, but their mentor,” Bruns says about his students.
He is not being soft on criminals, he stresses, but he believes that everyone deserves a second chance. “We have had less people who have gone through our programme coming back to prison after they have left and that’s how we measure our success.”
Bruns won the 2014 Inyathelo Philanthropy Award in Rehabilitation and Job Creation. The awards were handed out at a ceremony held in the Zip Zap Circus Dome in Cape Town on 6 November.
HLUMELELISA AND LEEUWKOP
Hlumelelisa addresses the learning and economic needs of its students by providing them with the technical and practical skills to gain employment in horticulture or agriculture. There are also many possibilities to start a variety of small-scale businesses in the sector after they have been in the programme, such as growing seedlings or vegetables for local sale.
Mafika Clement Vilakazi, a former inmate at Leeuwkop, says: “I was part of the Hlumelelisa class of 2009. I worked hard and loved working with flowers and nature. In 2010, Hlumelelisa recognised me and I then joined its training programme. I believe that this work and nature helped me get rid of the great anger I had in my heart since I was a child.
“On my release from prison I was offered full-time employment with Hlumelelisa. I now wish to start a family and take care of my mother as she is old. With the help of Hlumelelisa, I have the vision to achieve my lost dream to be a businessman in the future. I am willing to give the best of my ability to this project, help others grow and find their dreams.”
Hlumelelisa also runs a learnership project in Alexandra in Johannesburg.
Bruns believes that by taking responsibility for living plants, the students learn about taking responsibility for themselves, their environment and their future. The vegetables they grow are used to feed the children at nearby crèches as well as the youngsters who attend the Thusong Community Youth Centre.