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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 16:42 GMT
Killers come home
Live webcast with Joanna Thomas
Presented by Allan Little
12th November 2001, 14:30 (GMT)
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In the follow up to the critically acclaimed film 'Killers Don't Cry' , Allan Little follows the gang leaders as they are released from prison. Can they resist the embrace of their old lives and learn to live without violence?
We came back to Pollsmoor because both Mogamat and his second in command, Erefaan Jacobs, are about to be released. We wanted to see whether their determination to turn their backs on violent crime could survive on the outside.
Mogamat Benjamin told us with a kind of detached matter-of-factness of the men he'd killed in prison, of how he'd chopped off the head of one inmate, slicing with a home made knife made from smuggled razor blades; of how he'd eaten the heart of another.
Mogamat had, by now, spent most of the last 34 years in Pollsmoor Prison, rising through the ranks of the prison-gangs system until finally he held the status of "general" - the highest ranking gangster in the entire place.
The gang system known as the Number is a secretive and highly disciplined culture of violence and depravity. Prisoners win promotion through its structure by carrying out acts of atrocity - murdering fellow inmates, sodomising new recruits, stabbing warders.
We had come to Pollsmoor to witness - and capture on film - a remarkable experiment. Some of the gang members - led by Mogamat - had agreed to take part in a series of workshops called "Change is Possible", aimed at persuading them to try to renounce violence and resolve their disputes through dialogue.
We watched as mass murderers and multiple rapists slowly began to learn the language of trust and even intimacy. We filmed as they spoke for the first time about loveless childhoods.
And we watched as Mogamat himself finally broke down, telling his fellow inmates, through genuine tears of rage and regret, that he was sorry for the hurt and the pain that he had caused so many people and was now determined to live a life without crime.
Second in command
Erefaan Jacobs has the symbols of his gangland allegiance etched into his skin. Crude facial tattoos disfigure him. This practice of staining your skin - especially those who tattoo their faces - is the ultimate display of loyalty to the gang: it is indelible and life-long.
Erefaan has "I hate you, Mum" and "Spit on my grave" tattooed on his face. In marking himself in this way he was signalling in unambiguous - and at the time irreversible - ways that he was choosing the surrogate family of his prison gang over his blood family on the outside.
When he went to prison he vowed that he would murder his mother if he were ever released.
Is change possible?
But the lives of these two men have been changed by the intervention of a remarkable woman called Joanna Thomas.
Joanna is a Conflict Resolution expert brought into Pollsmoor by its post-apartheid governors to try to wean the inmates off their addiction to violence.
With Mogamat and Erefaan she has been astonishingly successful. Their conversion - their decision to renounce the gangs - has encouraged countless others to do the same.
Erefaan was the first of the two to be released. His re-entry into society frightened him. He preferred the certainties of prison life. In Pollsmoor he had status and authority as a gang leader. But on the day of his release, he told us, he made a decision, to go forward, not back.
We filmed as he went back to the mother he once threatened to kill. We watched as he tried to become the kind of man who could be a positive role model to his two younger brothers.
Erefaan kicked his drug addiction and finally, when a Cape Town doctor offered to remove his face tattoos free of charge, we filmed and watched him finally break free of his "surrogate family" and try again to embrace the world he had once spurned.
Facing the past
Mogamat's story is more remarkable still - and more complicated. "I am 48 years old" he told us " and that day in Pollsmoor when I cried in front of everybody was the first time I cried in front of other people since I was nine years old."
Mogamat's mother died when he was nine. Her death certificate records death from tuberculosis. But Mogamat believes she was murdered by witchcraft by his father's lover.
As a child still in grief from his mother's loss, Mogamat would cut up the clothes of the women his father brought back to the house.
One day the nine year old followed his father's lover from a fairground, lay in wait for her and then murdered her with an axe.
"All that stuff I kept inside of me, all those years" he said. "Nobody must never know what is inside of me. I must be tough."
Mogamat is struggling. He remains addicted to mandrax, an illegal pain killing sedative that he smokes in a pipe. He refuses to get a job. There is little or no love expressed between him and his wife and step daughters.
We filmed as the family took part in a workshop with Joanna. "All I want is your love, that's all I want," he tells them. But their wariness is painfully obvious and all too understandable.
The last time he was released from prison Mogamat sodomised a neighbour's son in the yard and then raped his own 13 year old daughter.
They watch in trepidation for signs that the old Mogamat will return. Mogamat's struggle is also theirs: they must learn to trust that he can indeed change.
"I am not a saint," Mogamat confesses. "But I am going to do it. I am going to say no to crime. And I am going to get it right."
If you would like to write to Joanna Thomas you can at:
Centre for Hope and Transformation
You can also write to Erefaan and Mogamat at:
The person co-ordinating support for Mogamat and his family is Joanna Thomas, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Killers come home: Sunday 11th November 2001 at 1915 on BBC Two
Reporter: Allan Little
Watch live forum with Joanna Thomas
04 Sep 01 | Correspondent
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