Discovering the code to unlock opportunities
THANKS TO THE VISION AND PRAGMATISM OF AN EX-OFFENDER-TURNEDENTREPRENEUR, THE WORLD’S NEXT BILL GATES OR STEVE JOBS MAY JUST COME FROM LANGA – CAPE TOWN’S OLDEST TOWNSHIP.
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.”
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