Prisoners show their talents on stage

Singers Lunga Tubu and Asanda Makhaba were among the 21 finalists in the UR Slam Factor Talent Search.

Lunga Tubu landed behind bars after breaking into a house, but last week at a Pollsmoor Prison talent search, he was breaking into song.

About 400 guests attended the UR Slam Factor Inmate Talent Search, featuring 21 different performances, at the prison’s recreational hall on Friday April 21.

The competition is the brainchild of Shirley Paulse, of the Tokai-based NGO Women in Action, and is part of a rehabilitation programme for Pollsmoor prisoners. In December last year, Pollsmoor area commissioner Clifford Mketshane described how Ms Paulse had helped with the renovation of Block B of the women’s prison, freeing up 270 beds and doing repairs. “A lot of people don’t like that we are helping prisoners, but the way I see it is one less murder, one less break-in. A lot of people in here want to change their lives,” said Ms Paulse.

She received 1 200 applications for the talent search. There were dancers, singers, poets and actors.

One of them was Tubu, 26, who broke into song with his big voice reminiscent of Luciano Pavarotti.

Having grown up in Hermanus he came to the big city in search of a career in classical music and ended up homeless and singing a cappella for coins in Sea Point.

One cold winter night, he had not made enough to cover the cost of a bed in a hostel and broke into a house. He has now been in Pollsmoor for seven months and has two more years left on his sentence.

“In here, I’ve met people who’ve helped me further with my singing. I’d like to continue doing what I’m good at when I get out and see where it takes me. I would need help to make a success,” he said.

Asanda Makhaba, 25, from Durban was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced in 2014 to 12 years, most of it spent in Johannesburg Prison.

From supporting her mother and two brothers, growing up singing opera, gospel and singing in choirs in Gugulethu and Nyanga, temptation got the better of her after meeting a wealthy businesswoman. Wanting what the woman had, she flew to Brazil to become a drug mule.

“In prison, I’ve learnt to be content with what I have, which is more than some people who have nothing. Love of money, greed, took away the little I had,” she said.

For the competition, Makhaba sang Amazulu by Amanda Black.

Mr Mketshane said the competition had been a great success so far.

“It’s a platform to showcase what offenders can do, to display their inner hidden talents and also to uncover what they never knew they had. To show society that people can change,” he said.

He spoke of young woman serving an eight-year sentence for murder.

“She wrote a heartbreaking poem, a confession, titled What Made Me Who I Am, of how she was abused and got into Satanism.

“Offenders are victims; I cannot deny that they have done wrong things in society, but if you scratch down a bit, you will realise there is no one in this world who is more dangerous than a victim.”