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From making overalls in prison to Christmas hats for children

Annette Fatti, Malusi Mbadamane and Merle O’Ryan share a moment in the backyard. Picture: Murphy Nganga.

Annette Fatti, Malusi Mbadamane and Merle O’Ryan share a moment in the backyard. Picture: Murphy Nganga.

Published Jan 8, 2022

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Cape Town - Inspired to rebuild his life one stitch at a time, Malusi Mbadamane went from making prison overalls during his 20-year sentence to making Christmas caps for the children in Mfuleni.

Mbadamane recalled having a challenging childhood when two of the most important women in his life passed away.

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"When my grandmother and mother passed away when I was 14 years old, my world came crumbling down. I was taken under my aunt’s care and ever since then, things have not gone smoothly. "

"I grew up very broken and angry, and that led me to make bad decisions. The first time I was incarcerated was when I moved to Johannesburg to look for work. In the midst of finding my first job, I got into an altercation with a colleague, and I lost control of myself. I ended up stabbing the man to death."

"Having been incarcerated for three years after that, my life spiralled out of control yet again when I thought all would be going well. I got into another altercation, and I lost my job soon after that.

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“Having been unable to take care of my wife and child, I started hanging around with friends that were not healthy for me. I took part in hijacks and from there I got arrested for the pending cases of hijacking, " said Mbadamane.

After attending anger management and sewing classes in prison, he was released on parole in 2019 and soon after that, Mbadamane met Annette Fatti through an initiative that aimed to give entrepreneurship and sewing skills to women and ex-offenders.

Annette Fatti, Malusi Mbadamane and Merle O’Ryan share a moment in the backyard. Picture: Murphy Nganga.

"I met Mbadamane when I was managing a team of ladies making 500 Christmas hats. Sponsored by the Kirstenbosch Rotary for their Carols by Candlelight event, the opportunity focused on upskilling ladies supported by The Zoe Project.“

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"When two ladies dropped out, Merle O’Ryan’s daughter sent Mbadamane to us to help us meet our deadline and I was immediately struck by the intense passion with which he learned the ropes."

"It was his eagerness to learn how to use the domestic overlocker properly that excited me. As I watched him improve his technique very quickly to produce accurate and high-quality products, I sensed his untapped potential. "

"After we finished the hats, he asked if he could have the remaining scraps as he wanted to make his own style of hats. He has incredible focus and energy and worked with speed and accuracy to produce a pile of hats to sell to a chief and his children. "

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"When I asked him if he was interested in starting up his own sewing business, he was very keen and motivated. Mbadamane has a teachable spirit and is very willing to learn how to succeed. I am always prepared to assist and support someone like him, as skills development and training are my passion," said Fatti.

Merle O’Ryan who is a mentor and facilitates projects to provide entrepreneurship skills and sustainable opportunities for the formerly incarcerated at Side by Side, said that just like everyone deserves a second chance, so did Mbadamane.

"Ex-offenders have a difficult time reintegrating into society. Society keeps the stigma on them even when many have rehabilitated and are rebuilding their lives. "

"Ex-offenders are human and need to be treated that way because they’ve committed the crime. They often need to pay for it for the rest of their lives, whether inside or outside of prison."

"Our prisons need to become centres where people are rehabilitated instead of locked up. They need to be given an opportunity to work to prove themselves and give back rather than continue to be punished when they are released. All people are different. Those who come out of prison and want to rebuild their lives should at least be afforded the opportunity, with monitoring, of a second chance," said O’Ryan.

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