National Commissioner, Makgothi Thobakgale used his interaction with youth officials at the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) Youth Month commemoration at Baviaanspoort Management Area on Friday, 7 July 2023, to urge young people to seize opportunities presented to them, and to ready themselves to take over the baton of leadership.
The packed programmed kicked-off with Commissioner Thobakgale visiting the abattoir and piggery to see first-hand, and receive a detailed briefing on various projects being implemented, in furtherance of the Self-Sufficiency and Sustainability Strategic Framework (SSSF).
As a precursor to the much-vaunted interaction between the National Commissioner and DCS youth officials, the second leg of the programme commenced with different external stakeholders giving empowering presentations for the benefit of young people.
Representatives of Bethesda Youth Shelter shared inspirational and real stories about the work they do to get young people off the streets and empower them with essential skills to rebuild their lives. SASSETA weighed in with a presentation on developmental opportunities and external bursaries that are available to young people. Action Support Centre, a Non-Governmental Organisation, followed suite by giving a presentation on conflict management and psychosocial support. The National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) outlined funding opportunities and processes to set up a business as well as essential leadership skills for youth with disabilities. An official from DCS Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), Sosi Tumahole capped off the empowering information sharing session by making a presentation on mental wellness and effects of mental health on Correctional Officials.
DCS youth who had organised themselves into commissions prior to the engagement with the National Commissioner used the platform to ventilate pertinent issues affecting them in the workplace. A range of issues were canvassed for the attention of the National Commissioner, including:
• Student interns not being given employment contracts at the expiry of their training period;
• Call for speedy filling of vacancies to ensure that more young people are absorbed into the employ of the Department, and affirming younger officials into managerial positions;
• Filling of the Youth Development Coordinator post, to advance the struggles of young officials;
• Embarking on a benchmarking exercise to address disparities in salary levels with other departments;
• Lack of programmes to empower student interns and keep them motivated;
• Removing age restriction on learnerships and internships to accommodate unemployed persons over the age of 35;
• Bullying of young people in the workplace, which breeds a toxic environment;
• Breach of confidentiality where sensitive matters raised in confidence end up being leaked or discussed in corridors. This borders on the lack of professionalism and is at odds with Batho Pele Principles;
• Non-representation of the youth across different levels of the organisation;
• Inculcate a culture of youth development by refocussing the bursary fund to target young officials post training to enable them to further their studies;
• Shortage of uniform;
• Amendment of the policy that deals with experiential learners especially in relation to safety, security and wellbeing of the experiential learners;
• Lack of training and induction of officials on the DCS Code of Conduct and policies;
• Exclusion of DCS young officials in the spectrum of skills development, especially on skills programmes related to the implementation of the SSSF;
• Lack of awareness about the DCS Promotion policy and lacklustre implementation thereof; and
• Ineffective communication methods to ensure that information shared reaches all levels of the organisation, especially officials at the coalface.
The National Commissioner welcomed the insightful contributions and suggestions made by the youth and assured them that they will be taken to management forums of the Department at the highest level for discussion and decisions. “I welcome the clear and deliberate call for Management to ensure that we provide skills to the areas that have been prioritised as part of Vision 2068,” he said.
He said that regions and management areas have been slow to fill vacant positions, within the available budget allocations. “It is important to fill positions so that young people can grow into the vacancies that come up,” he emphasised.
Commissioner Thobakgale reported that the Department has concluded the exercise of finalising the organisational structure, adding that this will answer issues pertaining to promotions, and the future of the Department and what career horizons are available for members.
The National Commissioner was encouraged by the zest shown by young officials to be involved in skills programmes linked to the SSSF, adding that this bodes well for the future. “SSSF is the future of DCS, because we do not want to continue to depend on the fiscus to fund our activities or functions as a Department. We want to generate our own revenue,” he said.
He condemned in the strongest possible terms the culture of bullying, harassment and breach of confidentiality in the workplace. “It is a practice that I abhor, and at every little turn when I see it, I act on it,” he assured.
The Commissioner said Management is dealing with the shortage of uniform. In addition to continuous training and induction on the DCS Code of Conduct, the National Commissioner said adherence to the Standard Operating Procedures is non-negotiable. “For us to be able to manage a workforce that is productive, in whatever space that you are managing, do what is right.”