National Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), Makgothi Thobakgale officially launched an Arts and Crafts Gallery on 14 March 2023 at Grahamstown Correctional Centre, in the Eastern Cape Region.
Art and creative activities in DCS act as a catalyst for identifying transformation, employment pathways, financial independence and community partnerships which help reduce crime and ensure successful reintegration of offenders back into communities. Through the Self-Sufficiency and Sustainability Strategic Framework (SSSF), DCS stretches beyond just reducing costs to the fiscus and generating revenue for the department, but further creates programmes that will unlock everlasting benefits to offenders post-incarceration.
The Arts and Crafts Gallery was made possible through partnerships with the Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture (DSRAC), Rhodes University and the National Arts Festival (NAF) who provided resources and expertise such on design layout, room lighting, types of material suitable for artworks and how to mount various items on the wall amongst others.
During his keynote address, Commissioner Thobakgale said that the on-demand skills for the market is one of the requirements upon rolling out programmes in correctional centres where inmates are being prepared for opportunities where they can be self-employed instead of being jobseekers. ”It is my view that arts and craft activities help instil a sense of achievement and pride in offenders. The galleries that we are operationalising across all regions boast exquisite paintings, drawings, sculptures, traditional accessories that every living soul will want to grab and take home,” said the Commissioner. He also mentioned that this calls for collaborative efforts from different sectors and further appreciated all stakeholders who participated in building a better South Africa through rehabilitation.
Upon delivering a message of support, National Arts Festival (NAF) Stakeholder Manager Ms Nobesuthu Rayi alluded that the partnership with correctional services was inspired by multi award-winning visual artist Blessing Ngobeni who is an ex-offender. Ngobeni won the 2020 Standard Bank Young Artist Award selected by the NAF committee. “Today, our collaboration with DCS saw us turning what used to be a storeroom into a high calibre gallery that is now professional and hosts artworks made by offenders in the Eastern Cape,” said Rayi. The NAF plans to further more collaborations with DCS starting with the upcoming NAF in June 2023 were proper planning needs to be done in ensuring that the Grahamstown Correctional Centre Arts and Crafts Centre becomes one of the venues to showcase the talent of offenders rehabilitated through programmes offered by DCS.
Eastern Cape acting Deputy Regional Commissioner, Sydney Twani, indicated that they are intending on turning Grahamstown Correctional Centre into a facility that houses offenders who are interested in arts to allow more art resources to be channelled into the facility for high quality results. “We are aware of the capacity challenges that we are facing; however, we are committed to working hard to make art a long-lasting culture in the department,” said Twani.
Offender Eric Xakawe, from Grahamstown Correctional Centre who is a visual artist, said that he experiences a certain level of satisfaction and joy from painting as it affords him a chance to express his emotions and aspirations better by using colours. “Through painting I was able to discover my passion which I would not have experienced if I was still in the life of crime. DCS has now offered me an opportunity to escape from frustration and depression of being in prison by expressing myself through art,” said Xakawe. He aspires to be a change agent who inspires others through art and advocates that crime does not pay.
During his closing remarks, Eastern Cape acting Regional Commissioner, Lucky Mthethwa extended his gratitude to Commissioner Thobakgale for providing guidance throughout the conceptualisation of the project. He also thanked stakeholders and all the relevant key role players present for making the historical project a success. “Incarceration carries in itself the responsibility of offender rehabilitation. Therefore, it is morally and physically the right thing to do considering the high rate of offenders incarcerated, to support and rehabilitate them be it poetry, artistic amongst others,” said Mthethwa.