Situated just a stone’s throw away from the tropical garden town of Tzaneen, is the newly built Tzaneen Correctional Centre which falls under the Polokwane Management Area, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West Region. The Centre was officially opened by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Mr Ronald Lamola on 20 November 2020, and is one of 16 new generation correctional facilities that have been unveiled as part of DCS infrastructure rollout programme. These modern facilities are built in-line with the current standards and norms, and to enable DCS to fulfil its constitutional mandate of ensuring the safe and secure detention of offenders. The Tzaneen Correctional Centre is equipped with sophisticated technologies to enhance safe securing of inmates and also facilitate skills transfer to inmates to enable their effective rehabilitation.
The visit commenced with the National Commissioner, Mr Arthur Fraser, supported by the Regional Commissioner of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West (LMN) Region, Mr Tlabo Thokolo and other DCS executives providing an overview of the state-of-the-art facility to the Minister and some of his distinguished guests, including the Deputy Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Ms Noxolo Kiviet, Limpopo MEC for Transport and Community Safety, Ms Mavhungu-Lerule Ramakhanya, Limpopo Judge President Ephraim Makgoba among others.
Recognising the significance of the occasion, the Chief Operations Commissioner, Mr Mandla Mkabela said, “This day reaffirms the DCS commitment to rehabilitate and empower offenders in our care with the necessary skills to become employable and productive upon release”. He pledged that the Department will collaborate with various stakeholders to find synergies to ensure that the facility work for, and benefit the people of Tzaneen and surrounding areas.
RC Thokolo reported that the increased bed space at Tzaneen Correctional Centre will significantly reduce overcrowding in the region. He added that an increase in the number of inmates that will be housed at the Facility will ensure optimal utilisation of arable land for farming purposes, thereby contributing towards self-sufficiency.
Previously, the old Tzaneen Correctional Facility was made up of corrugated iron, and accommodated only 68 inmates. The construction of the new structure has resulted in a substantial increase of bed space capacity to 501, which translate to 433 additional bed spaces. The Centre houses Medium classified offenders with sentences that are below 15 years only.
Echoing Mr Thokolo’ sentiments, Minister Lamola underscored the importance of ensuring that inmates are kept in a safe and habitable environment, in which effective rehabilitation can take place. “Overcrowding poses a risk to both officials and inmates. It has a negative impact on our rehabilitation programmes and it also stretches our resources to the brink of collapse,” he said. Overcrowding in the region stood at 68% prior to the opening of Tzaneen Correctional Centre, but has since dropped to 15.09%.
The Minister and his entourage embarked on a tour of the facility, starting with the old corrugated iron structure as well as the vegetable garden. Thereafter, the procession moved to the new generation facility to inspect various sections, including the housing units (K-1 and K-2), kitchen, hospital and formal education centre. “Experience has taught us that inmates must acquire requisite skills that equip them for the future, outside our centres,” said Minister Lamola. Testament to this, Tzaneen Correctional Centre offers inmates with Formal Education Programme called Adult Education Training (EAT) level 1-4 and Skills Development Programme which comprises of woodwork, welding and basic computer training to name a few.
As a stark reminder of our painful past, and reflecting on the difficult journey that has been traversed to transform the face of corrections in South Africa, the Deputy Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure, Ms Noxolo Kiviet, invoked the words of former President Nelson Mandela who said, “During apartheid, the conditions in the prisons were inhumane and had no room for human rights”. She commended the DCS for providing a humane facility such as the Tzaneen Correctional Centre which brings dignity to offenders.
Minister Lamola identified a need for the development of official accommodation for staff within the precinct, so that officials can be able to respond timeously in case of emergency. The Minister made an impassionate plea to traditional leaders and the community at large to accept and give ex-offenders a second chance to rebuild their lives when they are released.