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The Grime That Comes With Crime




It’s a sunny winter’s day at Avalon Cemetery, in Soweto, and there are rows of graves as far as the eye can see. For nearly 50 years, thousands have been buried here. We find 50-year old Dan Makete knee deep in a grave, digging out the dry soil for yet another burial.

“This is one of the few places I can ever find work. I get so comfortable, it’s like home,” he says.

Makete is one of thousands of ex-prisoners struggling. It is a sad story that began in 1995; the days of democracy and hope for South Africa were days of despair for him.

“Life was tough back then and I got involved in terrible things. I was arrested for armed robbery, house break-ins and hijacking,” he says.

The price was an 18-year jail term.

“Six of those years were suspended and because of good behavior, I served nine years [and] six months.”

But good behavior didn’t mean rehabilitation.

“Prison wasn’t correctional. I was in jail for a very long time but I didn’t get a skill or any kind of empowerment. We spent days doing nothing. The best you could do was work in the kitchen, dairy or maybe in the garden,” he says.

According to Makete, there was no counselling, meaning he went back to crime.

“When I got out for the second time, I had a different mind-set and wanted to make sure I don’t go back to crime. I have managed to stay clear of that but it is tough. I can’t find a decent job because I have no skill and employers don’t take people with criminal records.”

Makete takes any menial job that comes his way. One of them is cleaning and digging graves at the cemetery.

“If you aren’t strong enough you will go back to prison because there is nothing you can do. While I was in prison we fought, by hunger strike, to try convince them to empower us but there was never a response and if there was, they would promise but nothing would happen.”

Makete says he feels rehabilitated, but unskilled.

“I don’t see myself going back to prison because I have learned my lesson but the pain is I have been out of prison for years but there is a big stigma. You are used as an example. I have heard people say, ‘don’t be like that useless one’,” Makete says in a low voice.

‘It’s Better To Live In Hell Than A South African Prison’

With three children to support, life is tough, yet there is help at hand.

Founded in September 1910, the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders (NICRO) specializes in helping people like Makete. It directly helps 12,000 to 15,000 people a year.

“This is a huge challenge because many of our ex-prisoners cannot find work because of the criminal record and sometimes it’s impossible. We were hoping to get enterprises up and running in order to employ ex-prisoners but it has not materialized yet,” says NICRO CEO, Soraya Solomon.

The vast majority of South African employers disqualify applicants with a criminal record. NICRO calls for employers to be more lenient.

“Aside from this practice being unconstitutional and a derogation of the right to equality and non-discrimination, a considerable part of the problem of crime in South Africa is that most offenders who wish to lead a crime-free life are prohibited from doing so because of their past actions. Having a criminal record for a less serious offence which occurred years ago should not be used to bar someone from gainful employment today,” she says.

Solomon recognizes that successful job applicants sometimes need to have no criminal record, especially for a particular type of offence, but says a balancing of rights is necessary.

For the system to work, she says rehabilitation must start as soon as the offender arrives in prison. The problem is there is overcrowding, few staff and low pay. It means a small percentage of prisoners have access to services to assist them in changing behavior. Upon release, most NGOs, like NICRO, do not have the money to help. In 2013, according to Solomon, about 23,000 inmates were released from South African correctional facilities while another 25,000 entered the system each month.

“Clearly the influx of prisoners will continue to be a problem and facilities will experience ever-increasing overcrowding and worsening prison conditions. We need to think beyond this present crisis in order to find sustainable solutions,” says Solomon.

Solomon and her team are attempting to find such solutions. They offer services for youth at risk, young people in conflict with the law, diversion services and non-custodial sentences served outside of prison that equip offenders to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society. Additionally, NICRO has designed a comprehensive community-based initiative to manage and significantly reduce the number of remand detainees in correctional centers.

“NICRO’s remand solution has been designed to  reduce prison overcrowding and the processing time of offenders, prevent low-risk offenders from being sent to prison while on remand, provide much-needed and often overlooked key services, such as victim and trial support, preparation for incarceration, restorative justice interventions and professional comprehensive assessment to reduce recidivism,” Solomon explains.

Clinical psychologist and criminologist, Craig Traub, agrees with Solomon. He says the criminal justice system is more retributive than rehabilitational.

“Unfortunately prison systems, without bounds of stimulation, tend to be systems to improve criminality and criminal behavior in terms of skills, deception, and familiarity. Being a warden and nursing staff in prison is tremendously noble and dangerous. In that, increased employment packages for these workers would benefit the system as a whole,” says Traub.

From Prison Cell To Red Carpet

In the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services’ (JICS) 2015/2016 annual report, Inspecting Judge Johann van der Westhuizen found only 46% of centers visited had permanently employed educators. To make it worse, some centers in small rural areas did not offer any education, rehabilitation or vocational opportunities.

“We were informed that inmates who wish to further their education are transferred to centers with educational facilities. This, however, results in the inmates being transferred further away from their family. This in turn limits visits and the family interaction that is crucial for a successful reintegration into the community,” says Van der Westhuizen.

To make matters worse, inmates sentenced to 24 months or less do not take part in any programs but are rather considered for parole on completion of a quarter of their sentence in terms of section 73 (6) (a) of the Correctional Services Act.

It is a problem that lawyers can fix, but it comes at a high price. This means the poor, like Makete, suffer more while those who have done worse get off more lightly because they have money.

According to Traub, the poor sometimes suffer because forensic workers are overloaded; DNA/fingerprint measures aren’t always done in time, evidence goes missing, is stolen or sold, and oversight mechanisms to prevent police and government corruption are laughable.

“Again, those who are better educated and skilled have a higher likelihood of gaining employment, despite their record, than those who are not,” says Traub.

Traub says to better prepare prisoners for reinsertion into the society we need more halfway houses for prisoners, similar to those of addict rehabilitation. These would incorporate a gradual step-by-step facility, general reintroduction, skills-of-daily-living workshops and a person who can facilitate such a move.

If ex-offenders are able to find lawful employment, there are broad social benefits. According to Solomon, in a German study, the re-offending rate was reduced by 30%, and in the US by 20%. In South Africa, she says, the government would save about R7.3 million ($550,000) a month if 20% less of the 4,300 offenders released monthly did not re-offend.

“For that reason alone, reintegrating ex-offenders and supporting employment as a key part of that process is in everyone’s interest,” says Solomon.

The government may be trying, but not hard enough.

South Africa tried a restorative justice system, during the transition from apartheid South Africa to a free one, through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Here, a criminal would return or give something the aggrieved requires or deserves, for example through a truth-telling testimony. Some would argue that this system played a role in rehabilitation.

Another problem is the country’s criminal record system. For example, in some cases diversion – a process to steer lower risk offenders away from the criminal justice system while still holding them accountable for their actions, by making the offender perform some sanction, such as attending a behavior change program or counselling, pay a fine or perform unpaid community service – doesn’t work.

“A person who is diverted does not have a criminal record. However, it has come to NICRO’s attention that despite being diverted, a number of people report that a criminal conviction has been recorded against their name. This is typically found out when a person applies for a job or a visa for travel,” says Solomon.

According to Solomon, this is the result of a clerical error between the court clerks and the South African Police Services (SAPS) and can be corrected by approaching the court clerk, where the diversion was ordered.

“There are many incidents where adults committed a less serious offence when they were younger and find later in life that they cannot obtain employment or educational bursaries. At the same time, other people who have committed similar offences are being diverted without any criminal record,” she says.

To add to that, South Africa’s criminal justice system allows for a criminal record to be expunged. The tricky part is the offender must wait 10 years before applying. This means although ex-prisoners, like Makete, have served their time, they may continue to pay for their crimes once released.

“In many of these cases, the period of 10 years of being unable to travel, obtain employment and, in many cases, being unable to study further, embody sanctions that are more severely punitive than the offence warrants,” says Solomon.

Without enough rehabilitation programs, South Africa has a cancerous crime problem. It is so bad that a First National Bank study found that crime was one of the reasons hundreds of South Africans were selling their homes and moving overseas.

It sees the cost of crime far outweighing the cost of rehabilitating criminals.

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Current Affairs

The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation




Snapshots of the outrage against foreign nationals and protests against sexual offenders in South Africa in recent weeks, captured by FORBES AFRICA photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla.

As the continent’s second-biggest economy, South Africa attracts migrants from the rest of Africa. But mired in its own problems of unemployment and political instability, September saw a serious outbreak of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and foreign-owned businesses. And they have been ugly.    

The spark that fueled the raging fire was in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district (CBD).

The altercation caused a riot and the taxi industry brought the CBD to a standstill, blocking intersections. It did not stop there; a week later, about 60 kilometers from the capital in Malvern, a suburb east of the Johannesburg CBD, a hijacked building caught fire, leaving three dead. As emergency services were putting out the fire, the residents took advantage and looted foreign-owned shops and burned car dealerships overnight on Jules Street.

The lootings extended to the CBD and other parts of Johannesburg.

To capture this embarrassing moment in South African history, I visited Katlehong, a township 35 kilometers east of Johannesburg, where the residents blocked roads leading to Sontonga Mall on a mission to loot the mall and the foreign-owned shops therein overnight.

Shop-owners and workers were shocked to wake up to no business.

Mfundo Maljingolo, a worker at Fish And Chips, was among the distressed.

“This thing started last night, people started looting and broke into the mall and did what they wanted to do. I couldn’t go to work today because there’s nothing to do; now, we are not going to get paid. The shop will be losing close to R10,000 ($677) today. It’s messed up,” said Maljingolo.

But South African businesses were affected too.

Among the shops at the mall is Webbers, a clothing and footwear store. Looters could not enter the shop and it was one of the few that escaped the vandalism.

Dineo Nyembe, the store’s manager, said she was in disbelief when she saw people could not enter the mall.

“We got here this morning and the ceiling was wrecked but there was no sign that the shop was entered, everything was just as we left it. Now, we are packing stock back to the warehouse, because we don’t know if they are coming back tonight,” lamented Nyembe, unsure if they would make their daily target or if they would be trading again.

 Across the now-wrecked mall are small businesses that were not as fortunate as Webbers, and it was not only the shop-owners that were affected. 

Emmanuel Nhlane’s home was robbed even as attackers were looting the shop outside.

“They broke into my house, I was threatened with a petrol bomb and I had to stand outside to give them a chance; they took my fridge, bed, cash and my VHS,” said Nhlane.

Nhlane had rented out his yard to foreign nationals to operate a shop. He does not comprehend why his belongings were taken because he doesn’t own a shop. Now, it means that the unemployed Nhlane will not be getting his monthly rental fee of R3,700 ($250).

Far away, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was also affected as trucks burned and a driver was killed because of his nationality. This was part of a logistics and transport industry national strike.

Back in Johannesburg, I visited the car dealerships that were a part of the burning spree on Jules Street.

The streets were still ashy and the air still smoky, two days after the unfortunate turn of events.

Muhamed Haffejee, one of the distraught businessmen there, said: “Currently, we are still not trading.” 

Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from September 4 to 6, was also witness to protests by women and girls from all walks of life outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, demanding that the leadership take action to end the spate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.

There were protests also outside Parliament. What set off the nationwide outcry was the shocking rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old film and media student at the University of Cape Town, inside a post office by a 42-year-old employee at the post office.

There was anger against the ghastly crimes and wave of GBV in the country that continues unabated. According to Stats SA, there has been a drastic increase of women-based violence in South Africa; sexual offences are up by 4.6%, from 50,108 in 2018 to 52,420 in 2019.

A week later, on a Friday, Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile and one of the biggest economic hubs, was shut down by hundreds of angry women and members of advocacy groups from across Johannesburg. They congregated by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the cynosure of business, singing and chanting, to demand “a 2% levy on profits of all listed entities to help fund the fight against GBV and femicide”.   

Among the protesters was Cebi Ngqinanbi, holding a placard that read: “I’m not your punching bag.”

“We came here to disrupt Sandton as the heart of Johannesburg’s economic hub. We want to make everyone aware that women and children are being killed every day in South Africa and they [Sandton] continue with business as usual, sitting in their offices with air-conditioners and the stock exchange whilst people on the ground making them rich are dying. That is why we are here, to speak to those that have economic power,” said Ngqinanbi.

She added that if women can be given economic power, they will be able to fend for themselves and won’t fall prey to abusive men, since most women stay in abusive relationships because men are more financially stable.

Amid the chanting and singing of struggle songs, Nobuhle Ajiti addressed the crowd and shared her own haunting experience as a migrant in South Africa and survivor of GBV. She spoke in isiZulu, a South African language.

“I survived a gang rape; I was thrown out of a moving car and stabbed several times. I survived it, but am I going to survive xenophobia that is looming around in South Africa? Will I able to share my xenophobia story like I can share my GBV story?” questioned Ajiti.

She said as migrants, they did not wake up in the morning and decide to come to South Africa, but because of the hardships faced in their home countries, they were forced to come to what they perceived as the city of opportunities. And as a foreign national, she had to deal with both xenophobia and GBV.

“We experience institutionalized xenophobia in hospitals; we are forced to pay huge amounts for consultation. I am raped and I need medical attention and I am told I need to pay R5,000 ($250).

“As a mere migrant, where am I going to get R5,000? I get abused at home and the police officer would ask me where I’m from because of my accent, I sound Zimbabwean. What does my nationality have to do with my husband beating me at home or with the man that just raped me?” she asked.

Women stop traffic while they hold up placards stating their grievences against GBV. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

Addressing the resolute women outside was the JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King who received the memorandum demanding business take their plight seriously, from a civil society group representing over 70 civil society organizations and individuals.

The list of demands include that at all JSE-listed companies contribute to a fund to resource the National Strategy Plan on GBV and femicide, to be launched in November; transport for employees who work night shifts or work after hours; establish workplace mechanisms to provide support to GBV survivors as part of employee wellness, and prevention programs that help make workplaces safe spaces for all women.

Newton-King assured the protestors she would address their demands in seven days. But a lot can happen in seven days. Will there be more crimes in the meantime? How many more will be raped and killed in South Africa by then?

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How LinkedIn Is Looking To Help Close The Ever-Growing Skills Gap





As the job market has evolved, so too have the skills required of seekers. But when 75% of human resources professionals say a skills shortage has made recruiting particularly challenging in recent months, it would appear as though the workforce hasn’t quite kept pace. Now LinkedIn is stepping in to help close the gap.

On Tuesday, the professional social network announced the launch of a “Skills Assessments” tool, through which users can put their knowledge to the test. Those who pass are given the opportunity to display a badge that reads “passed” next to the skill on their profile pages, a validation of sorts that LinkedIn hopes will encourage skills development among its users and help better match potential employees with the right employers.  

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“We see an evolving labor market and much more sophistication in how recruiters and hiring managers look for skills. … We also see a changing learning market,” says Hari Srinivasan, senior director of product management at LinkedIn Learning. “The combination of those two made us excited about changing our opportunity marketplace to make the hiring side and the learning side work better together.”

So how exactly does it work? Let’s say a user wants to showcase her proficiency in Microsoft Excel. Rather than simply listing “Excel” in the skills section of her profile, she can take a multiple-choice test to demonstrate the extent to which she is an expert.

If she aces the test, not only will a badge verifying her aptitude will appear on her profile, but she will be more likely to surface in searches by recruiters, who can search for candidates by skill in the same way they might do so by college or employer. If she fails, she can take the test again, but she’ll have to wait a few months—plenty of time to develop her skillset.   

The tool has been in beta mode since March, and while just 2 million people have used it—a mere fraction of LinkedIn’s 630 million members—early results seem promising. According to LinkedIn, members who’ve completed skills assessments have been nearly 30% more likely to land jobs than their counterparts who did not take the tests.

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“This has been a really good way for members to represent what they know, what they are good at,” says Emrecan Dogan, LinkedIn group product manager.

While new to LinkedIn, the practice of assessing candidates’ skills has been a standard among hiring managers for decades. But when research commissioned by LinkedIn revealed that 69% of employees feel that skills have become more important to recruiters than education, LinkedIn felt as though this was the time to give job seekers the opportunity to prove themselves from the get-go.

As important as the hard skills that members can put to the test through LinkedIn’s new tool may be, Dawn Fay, senior district president at recruiting firm Robert Half, encourages those on both side of the job search not to forget the importance of soft skills. “You wouldn’t want to rule somebody in or out just based on how they did on one particular skill assessment,” she says.

“Have another data point that you can use, question people about how they did on something and see if it’s something that can feed into the puzzle to find out if somebody is going to be a good fit.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market





While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.

The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.

This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.

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“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”

The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership

The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.

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The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.

In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”

Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.

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“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.

So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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