Sihle Tshabalala’s story is one of powerful transformation: from convict and prison gang member to a motivated man running an organisation which is changing the lives of inmates and ex-convicts.
Tshabalala (32) got involved in petty crime as a high school student in Langa, Cape Town. Finding himself jobless after matric, Tshabalala moved on to heavy crime. He was 19 years old when he was arrested for armed robbery, which landed him in Pollsmoor prison for four years, awaiting trial. He joined the 26s gang and started smuggling marijuana with the help of prison officials on his payroll.
In October 2005 Tshabalala was sentenced to 13 years in prison. “That’s when my life changed. I stopped smuggling because I realised I was still going to be in prison for at least the next seven years. I needed to get my life together.” Tshabalala was transferred to Brandvlei Maximum Security Prison, where he left the prison gangs.
“I’ve always been a go-getter and am hungry to learn, but I used it for the wrong thing – crime. I knew I needed to re-direct that energy,” he says. Tshabalala joined the Group of Hope, a project run by Brandvlei inmates, which works with gender advocacy groups, does HIV and Aids related work and offers skills development. “The GOH project helped in unlocking my potential.”
When Tshabalala was released from prison in 2013 he decided he wanted to keep helping others. He and his co-founders wanted to start something that could change lives for the better by creating high value job skills. And so Brothers For All (B4All) was born: an organisation which trains youth in computer programing — specifically coding.
They operate in and outside of prisons, teaching people how to build mobile applications, websites, blogs and themes using a range of different coding languages. Training is facilitated via free online platforms and mentors.
“I believe with deep conviction that B4All can end the cycle of poverty and crime by offering technology skills to youth at risk, offenders and ex-offenders,” says Tshabalala. “In the Western Cape alone there are 23 000 unfilled programing posts, so there is a huge demand. Work comes to you, you can do it from home and you will earn a decent salary.”
Tshabalala is offering hope; hope of a better life and a real alternative to crime. He knows it’s possible. — Lauren Clifford-Holmes