“The faces of those beautiful looking ladies l had seen and had been told they work for YMCA, made me want to attend their sessions. That meant l was giving up my free time to hustle cigarettes around the prison but l was willing to lose that just to be around such beauty. I never knew attending the sessions would lead to a turning point in my life,” said Nduduzo Shelembe better known as “Stix”. Stix is an ex offender who was introduced to the YMCA while serving a three- year sentence
in Westville Prison, Durban, for armed robbery. His journey into a life of crime started when he decided to be a “woonga” dealer which was meant to be a side hustle for supplemental income to provide for his 3 month old baby and his mother as he was not earning enough from his job in Glenwood. Business went so well that he ended up hiring someone to sell for him until he was addicted to the drugs he was selling.
Nduduzo would have a little bit of the woonga while he was packaging it because it made him feel so good. It turned out to be a terrible mistake. “Apart from my addiction, what l also regret about the woonga business is having introduced it to so many young people in a place called Mamba where l used to sell. Some of them have died because of it while some are still addicts and their lives have been destroyed. Seeing them brings so much pain and guilt because l managed to change my life while they are still stuck in the drugs.” As time went by, Stix started purchasing woonga mostly for his own use. At that time he was working at a car wash in Verulam, earning way less than before as a result of business being slow and some days they would not work especially during rainy days. “I started to steal from cars that came to the car wash and with my friends we would rob people during month ends to sustain our drug addiction. I went to jail about 3 times for that and every time l would come back and continue robbing people. I even became a supplier of stolen electronic gadgets such as expensive phones, laptops and television sets,” said Stix. This proves that there is still a long way to go in terms of reducing crime in communities because “in as much as there are efforts to curb crime we have com unity members who promote it by buying stolen goods”.
The turning point in his life came with his fourth arrest for armed robbery which he calls his “blessing in disguise”, because he almost lost his life on the day of the armed robbery as the general public wanted to kill him for it. Being taken away by the police saved his life. Through the YMCA he learnt life skills, anger management and was connected with his loved ones while in prison as well as being trained in upholstery skills during the post release program. Being in jail also made him realise the need to change because he says his mother was suffering because of his and his siblings bad choices. His two brothers, who are both woonga addicts, were harassing their mother as well as stealing from home to buy woonga. Hearing the different stories of what his brothers would have done every time she visited or when he called her, made him want to be a different person who would protect his mother, sister and his little boy. Asked how he has managed to stay out of drugs and crime since his release, Stix says that it has been mostly through the grace of God and the support from family and YMCA. God has given him that strength to let go and never look back. “It has been a tough journey. l mean the transition from making quick money to being unemployed at the same time having a
son whom you have to provide for. Im currently trying to find a job and from the money l will get l want to get Upholstery equipment so l can start my own business”.
In his parting words Stix said “ my greatest wish is that YMCA will continue the good work they do and to reach out to more young people who are at risk of committing crime before they destroy their lives.”
YMCA is implementing the Youth Justice project with support from Y Sweden. The project reaches out to those ‘at risk’ (gangs, youth in risky areas, vulnerable youth, drug-addicted youth or those in that environment), those in places of safety and institutions of correctional services, as well as those in the reintegration phase. Involving life skills, personal development, victim-offender dialogues, reintegration and awareness-raising. The main objective of the project is, youth in conflict with the law and those at risk of offending have taken steps towards active citizenship in all program countries during the program period.
South Africa are among the four Africa YMCA countries implementing the project. The other 3 are Togo, Senegal and Madagascar.