Dis­cov­er­ing the code to un­lock op­por­tu­ni­ties

Finweek English Edition - - ENTREPRENEUR -


Hav­ing spent close to 11 years be­hind bars for rob­bery, Sihle Tsha­bal­ala has seen the best and the worst of what life has to of­fer. The about-t urn i n Tsha­bal­ala’s life hap­pened in 2006 when he was a max­i­mum-se­cu­rity prisoner in the Brand­vlei Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre near Worces­ter in the West­ern Cape. “I met some­one I had grown up with at Brand­vlei be­fore he was to be trans­ferred to a medium-se­cu­rity fa­cil­ity. He said to me, ‘Sihle, I’ve been teach­ing here and I want some­one to take over from me and fill my shoes. The only per­son who came to mind was you.’”

Re­luc­tant and scep­ti­cal, Tsha­bal­ala agreed and started teach­ing English and Math­e­mat­ics – sub­jects he had a nat­u­ral ap­ti­tude for. “I’ve al­ways been a bright kid, hav­ing started school by age four and fin­ish­ing ma­tric by age 16.”


While in pri­son, Tsha­bal­ala joined the non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion (NPO) Group of Hope – a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gramme at Brand­vlei through which in­mates “adopt” vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren from the sur­round­ing ar­eas, for whom they grow veg­eta­bles and make clothes.

“Group of Hope is t he b e s t re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gramme a cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity could have,” says Tsha­bal­ala. “It works and it’s much bet­ter than the so­cial and psy­cho­log­i­cal ser­vices gov­ern­ment of­fers be­cause it drives change from within the pri­son. It doesn’t help to im­pose pro­grammes upon pris­on­ers – at the end of the day it will be short-lived.”

When Tsha­bal­ala was re­leased in 2013, he wanted to con­tinue the work he had done through Group of Hope, so he ap­proached Linda McCourt Scott (who co-founded the NPO Moth­ers for All) and en­tre­pre­neur Robyn Scott, who helped him to es­tab­lish Broth­ers for All.


In its t wo years’ ex­is­tence, Broth­ers for All has done ex­ten­sive HIV/Aids aware­ness and pre­ven­tion work among male and fe­male in­mates, which has re­cently been ex­tended to Tsha­bal­ala’s birth­place, Langa.

Prag­matic and so­lu­tion- driven, Tsha­bal­ala wanted to do more to ex­pand the work of Broth­ers for All by help­ing peo­ple from his com­mu­nity to put bread on the ta­ble. “If you re­ally want to be ef­fec­tive you should teach peo­ple skills that will en­able them to earn a living.”

He re­alised one of the most soughtafter skills in South Africa and abroad is cod­ing. “There’s a huge deficit of de­vel­op­ers – in Cape Town alone there are 23 000 unf i l led pro­gram­ming po­si­tions.”

From Broth­ers for All sprung a course that teaches 170 youths from pre­vi­ously ad­van­taged back­grounds t he most es­sen­tial pro­gram­ming lan­guages, such as HTML, JavaScript and PHP. “The cod­ing classes started in Oc­to­ber last year,” says Tsha­bal­ala, who went on­line and taught him­self all the cru­cial cod­ing pro­grammes.


The stu­dents in Tsha­bal­ala’s class are a mix of ex- of­fend­ers, high school dropouts and un­em­ployed youth.

“In South Africa, t hou­sands of chil­dren drop out of school in a year. Even ma­tric­u­lants and grad­u­ates are with­out jobs. What chance does a high school dropout have for a bet­ter life?”

The ad­van­tage of hav­ing cod­ing s k i l l s , s a y s Tshaba l a l a , i s t hat pro­gram­mers don’t have to nec­es­sar­ily go out and seek em­ploy­ment. “You can source jobs on­line, or even build your own web­site and show­case your skills for free­lance jobs. Or you can do over­seas work while you’re based in Cape Town.”

Tsha­bal­ala is par­tic­u­larly proud of the fact that the cod­ing course has such far-reach­ing benefits in his com­mu­nity. “I teach 170 stu­dents who all come from fam­i­lies of be­tween six and 12 mem­bers. Through th­ese stu­dents we can help at

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