Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele has urged South Africans to seriously consider working with government to reintegrate offenders into society once they have been released from prison.
The Minister said it is accepted worldwide that 95% of all inmates will ultimately return to their communities at some point.
"Therefore, conviction and sentencing can no longer be meted out without considering the eventual reintegration of offenders. The World Prison Brief currently places South Africa in the top ten in terms of our inmate population and we have 51,8 million citizens and our rate of imprisonment is the highest in Africa," said Ndebele.
Ndebele was speaking at the launch of the provincial Victim-Offender Dialogue in Secunda on Wednesday.
He said the Department of Correctional Services was embarking on a renewed focus to bring victims and offenders together in a safe space where relationships can be restored and forgiveness sought.
More than 3 000 people, including victims of crime, offenders, community members and government officials attended the event.
"The objective of the Victim-Offender Dialogues is to put the victim back at the centre of the corrections system, as the victim is directly, and personally, affected by the criminal act of the offender," he said.
He said equally, the offender must be given an opportunity to reflect on his or her wrongs and request forgiveness.
The dialogues create opportunities where various stakeholders defined as victims of crime, those affected personally, their families, communities, community-based organisations, non-governmental organisations, religious and spiritual bodies, teachers, councillors and local leaders, assemble together with offenders with a single purpose to rebuild communities ravaged by crime.
According to the Minister, a successful Victim-Offender Dialogue should be a performance measurement tool for each of our 243 correctional centres in South Africa.
"Its success factors should include maximisation of stakeholder participation, and empowerment of both the victim and offender to be normal members of society again," he said.
"The victim, offender and community members must play a leading role in the implementation of the Victim-Offender Dialogues as a correction is a societal responsibility," he said.
The minister said Mpumalanga was an example of how the prison system has worked in the past.
"It was here in Mpumalanga in the 1950's when the farms of Bethal received much negative publicity as slave farms. Inmates serving their sentences were sent by the authorities to work on the potato farms," Ndebele said.
He said the town of Bethal, which is the main centre of the Bethal Management Area of the Department of Correctional Services, consequently became known as eMazambaneni.
"It was also notorious as the death trap for inmates, and farm workers, who were exposed to harsh working conditions in the town's farming areas. Some workers even lost their hands while digging on these farms.
"Whether you are Indian, Black or White, the potato is king of any meal. It was, therefore, bold to call for a boycott of potatoes," he said.
Ndebele said it was therefore important that the Victim-Offender Dialogue must help ensure that the country must never ever have another Bethal.
"It is, therefore, befitting that we are hosting this regional inauguration of the Victim-Offender Dialogue, for the Limpopo/Mpumalanga/North West Region of the Department of Correctional Services in the Bethal Management Area," he said.
He added that the launch provides this area with an opportunity to start afresh, by promoting the values of freedom and humaneness as well as reaching out to those most in need of our support: victims of crime and offenders.
"This citizen must be assisted by the corrections system to be rehabilitated, and return to the path of good citizenship," said Ndebele. - SAnews.gov.za