A woman with an extraordinary job…

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This is a photo montage of the images I took while I was working on my in-depth project focussed on gender justice. The main character is Martha Kekana who is an independent correctional centre visitor at Johannesburg Correctional Centre. She works in a difficult male dominated environment but has enough motivation to keep doing her job and being an active and involved mother to her three children and wife to her husband at home.

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The more things change the more they stay the same…

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Many of South Africa’s prisons are struggling with maintaining decent living conditions for the inmates they incarcerate. Many of these conditions are synonymous with those that occured during apartheid. The photos I took are at the Old Fort Prison complex which is now Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg.

uMama beziboshwa (mother of inmates)

“uMama weziboshwa” which means mother of inmates is about Martha Kekana who is an independent correctional centre visitor acts in the capacity of a mother with the inmates she works with. Her job is to take the complaints of inmates in the male section of Johannesburg correctional centre. This video follows Martha home from work showing what her family life is like.

Gender Justice – 16/10/2012: Working on Multimedia

The components I should probably have for my multimedia section.

I walked into the lab yesterday feeling less anxious about my multimedia component. Atleast that was until our new multimedia mentor, Eva told me I had to go back to prison to take photos of M walking into the correctional facility to portray (visually) the transition between her life at home and her life at work. I love that idea except it’s impossible for me to carry out without getting caught and most probably arrested. I know this all too well because I went there on Saturday (hyperventilating nad sweating) and I was told blatantly that I COULD NOT take photos of the gate. I had to get permission from the commissioner if I wanted to do that.

Jan (from my group) says I should probably take photos from a distance and use the special lens to get as close a shot as possible. That would de a great idea if M was keen. When I first asked her for permission to take photos of her walking into the gates with her colleagues she warned me saying that it was criminal offense and she would not advise that I did that.

It would have awesome if I had access to take such images. Image sourced from Google Images

Submitting my second draft yesterday felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I did my best consolidating a lot of the information I got from all the interviews I conducted and the information I got from research. I just hope I did a good job portraying the essence of the work that these women do and the environment they work in while showing the positive impact of their efforts. The next hurdle is getting all the images I need that portray prison conditions to give people a visual of what “inhumane prison conditions” and what a South African cell looks like.

Gender Justice – 14/10/2012: Air Punch!

I lived the definition of working on weekends as I would on any other day.

Friday: I managed to secure a telephonic interview with former inspecting judge of JICS, Judge Van Zyl, who will be one of the authoritative voices in my story. When I asked about M (my main ICCV) he said he knew her very well and she was excellent at her work.

Saturday: I woke up with an impulsive urge to go to Johannesburg prison to take photos of the premises. Even though I was scared out of my mind- I went. Driving down that incline approaching the gate I was staring at the gate trying to figure out the best possible view where I could park across the street and take wonderful images of the entrance. This proved to be more difficult than Carolyn advised. I couldn’t get the best angled photos from across the street even if it was directly opposite the gate because it was right at the corner and I didn’t want to raise suspicion.

I ended up parking at the garage and taking a few shots but I was too far. My bravado led me to marching down to the warders at the gate and asking them for permission. After one warder told me to come back on Monday to speak to the commissioner, I thought “hell no I didn’t drive 35km in this heat for someone to tell me no”. I took the photos from where I was and a few more through the fence at a chemist premises opposite the prison.

I can’t say I didn’t once think about getting caught and arrested but I did my best under the circumstances. I did more reading of the reports I have from different sources later that evening.

Sunday: I jumped out of bed (reluctantly) and geared up for my trip to M’s home. She granted me the opportunity to go and speak to her family about her work and even though getting out of bed was hard, her commitment to assisting me was motivation enough. I talked my 14-year-old sister into accompanying me as my “assistant” and she couldn’t resist. So we drove about 70km off to Palm Springs. (The trip would have been shorter had we not gotten a little lost).

When we got to her home I was pleased. Her family was warm and open with us even though we were complete strangers to them. Her house is being renovated and her husband was very busy fixing the flooring of what would be the master bedroom when renovations were complete. They all made time for me to ask them all the questions I had planned to ask them.

Her two daughters were more vocal than her son but the couple of sentences he gave me were adequate. At first M asked me not to take photos of her family but while we were standing in her kitchen laughing I started snapping away and they enjoyed it. Her husband who had just come in to ask her about the lunch she made him was only too happy to look into his wife’s eyes while I took their photo. I saw her youngest shy away and cover her grin with her top and heard my sister whisper: “wow, they are so in love”.

I think it’s safe to say I tried my best to capture M in her home environment and can only hope that this will suffice as multimedia footage.

Gender Justice – 12/10/2012: A little Glimmer of light!

The weight that the disappointment I got from one of inmate’s cancellation has been lightened off me. I spent some time editing the sound clip I got from Miles Bhudu and will be able to use it as a component of my multimedia section. My meeting with a former inmate has been confirmed for tomorrow. Judging by how my meeting with him goes, he said he would try to get some of his friends who are also former inmates to participate for my project.

My list of characters has been expanded. I had a successful phone call with former inspecting judge of the JICS, Judge Deon van Zyl. We are going to have a telephonic interview tomorrow where he will answer my questions as best as he can.

I can honestly say that I am feeling exhausted at this point but I’m keeping on for the sake of the project and all the people who have lovingly afforded me their time in assistance. I am brainstorming visuals as I go and hope it all comes together.

I’m not feeling very chatty today, maybe I’m saving my writing energy for my In Depth article. It needs proper tweaking to make it a good representation of the information I’ve received.

 

Gender Justice – 11/10/2012: Unexpected Blow!

My day started off well today. I mainly made follow up phone calls to the sources I contacted yesterday who had said to call them again. These were fruitful.

Lebo Kekae from Fear Free Life managed to give me the numbers of two former inmates who had interacted with ICCVs while they were incarcerated. First, G, who I managed to get a hold of this evening. He said he was more than happy to help and would speak to some of his fellow former inmates whom he was sure would be willing to speak to me. I am meeting with him on Friday.

When I called C (former inmate) his phone was off.

One appointment that I was very excited about was the one I had set up with my ICCV who agreed to let me film her journey from home to work. When I called her to confirm our meeting, she said she wouldn’t be able to participate. Even with her face hidden, she felt uncomfortable being on camera – her worry was that her clothes and voice would be easily identified by people from DCS. She was keen on helping me but was later convinced by some of her colleagues not to.

This cancellation was after I called the three other ICCVs asking to take photographs of them and they agreed. I was all set to go to Pimville first thing tomorrow morning. I had booked out a camera and planned my shooting storyboard when she cancelled and it was too late for me to arrange for the same type of appointment with the other ladies.

So my multimedia plan has gone up in smoke until I can come up with something as exciting as the idea I had.

Disappointment is exhausting…

Gender Justice – 09/10/2012: I have a title!

My biggest victory today is that I have finally come up with a title that will work for my story. “oMama beziboshwa” (mothers of inmates). I felt excited even when I said the title because the ICCVs that I’ve spoken to said their inmates saw them as mothers regardless of their age.

 

Finding a headline is like getting an epitomy…Image sourced from Google Images

These women are there not only as “watchdogs” but in their maternal capacity especially to those whose families want nothing to do with them.

The exact quote “mama weziboshwa” was reiterated by two ICCVs on seperate occasions. The first time I heard the phrase was during my first interview with one of my ICCVs, who said the inmates she helped called her that which was striking to me – heart warming. She works with many hardened criminals who despite what they’ve done, still feel the need for maternal love.

It’s not that these women have dubbed themselves as mothers to these men but that their work speaks for them. The passion with which they do their work is what earned them this title despite the challenges they face working in such hardened environments.

What I also found interesting was that their personalities were of a ‘soft’ nature (I say this without sounding condescending). Although I was a little nervous when I first sat down to speak to them, I didn’t feel as intimidated by them as I thought I would nor was I overwhelmed by a type of power I assumed they had because of the type of work they do.

Although they have important jobs that also require that they have an authoritarian approach, they were patient with me and availed themselves to assist wherever they could despite the fact that the first time they knew about me was when I was introduced to them by Mr Mentoor, just before the meeting started.

One of the ICCVs I met with yesterday agreed to have me film her journey throughout her day. So I will get footage of her while she gets ready for work and follow her until she gets to work.

She has asked me not to film her face for protection of her identity which is something I have accepted. So thursday morning I will go to her home in Pimville and take a trip with her to work.

Today I also finally got a hold of Moipone from Fear Free Life who has directed me to Lebo Kekae (0786498042) who deals communications. Lebo has promised to find me an inmate who may be able to speak to me about his experience with ICCVs while he was incarcerated.

I also called Khulisa and was told to call again tomorrow morning when the relevant person (Yvonne Ncube) would be available.

I called Nechama’s contact who is a former inmate, Vusi Kweyama (0723571185), and his phone was off so I left him a voice message and will call him again tomorrow.

Carolyn has also given the contact details for former inspecting judge of the JICS.

I just remembered a phrase that I’ve heard many people say for years: “too much of anything is bad for you”… It seems highly appropriate with the bulk of information I have received at this point. Despite this however, I’m optimistic…

Gender – 08/10/2012: ICCV meeting

The opportunity for me to attend an ICCV meeting was today. This was also my first visit to Johannesburg prison and I actually enjoyed it. I had the privilege of sitting in the meeting as an observer during the formalities and when their meeting was concluded I was given the chance to address my questions to them.

Image sourced from Google Images

Firstly, I really wanted to know what the conditions they worked under were. The three female ICCVs and their VCC (who is a former ICCV) present at the meeting had quite a bit to share but their main concern was the risk to their health because of the ill inmates they were in contact with.

The fact that they were comfortable sharing all they did with me left me awe struck because we were complete strangers to each other at the beginning of the meeting but at the end, they were as open with me as they could be.

The ICCVs at this meeting work with awaiting trial detainees. The diversity in the experience these women have helped to show the comparisons in the different sections they work in. This information I used to compare also to the information M (who works with sentenced inmates) shared with me. I noticed that although some of the complaints they dealt with were similar, others were different. This was the case especially with juvenile offenders compared to sentenced adult inmates.

Image sourced from Google Images

The producer of the Special Assignment episode about the inmate at Johannesburg prison who is ill got back to me today and sent me a link directing me to the footage online. She also offered for me to come into her studio so I can watch it in one of their booths but I don’t think I’ll have the time to.

I have a lot of information to consolidate for my story and I am still in desperate need of an inmate to speak to about his interaction with female ICCVs.

There’s another meeting scheduled tomorrow for ICCVs working with sentenced inmates. I would have loved to attend the meeting so I can meet the other women but it doesn’t seem necessary seeing as I have a mountain of information to plough through already.