WATCH | Jailed women still find joy as moms

Baby-behind-bars ‘brought light into a dark place’

In a section behind the high brick walls‚ metres of barbed wire and cold metal bars that surround the Johannesburg Prison are a group of women convicted of various crimes, but what makes them different from other inmates is that they are new mothers – doing time along with their babies.

“With my understanding‚ I am incarcerated but my child is not‚” Phumelele Madela‚ 36, who is serving time for fraud, said. She recently gave birth to a girl. Madela is one of 30 women at the Mother and Child Unit of the notorious “Sun City” prison‚ as it is called.

Ahead of Mother’s Day‚ she and a few others shared what it was like to raise their babies behind bars.

“I was four months’ pregnant [when I was jailed]. It was horrible‚” Madela‚ dressed in blue prison pants and a white vest said.

With her previous two pregnancies‚ she celebrated the upcoming births with family and friends‚ but with the new baby she walked the journey with a cell of strangers.

Madela has now spent 10 months behind bars and while she has her baby daughter with her‚ she shared the heartache of being away from her sons‚ aged 11 and seven.

“I miss my children so much that I cry myself to sleep because of the hurt I have brought upon them for the decisions I made‚” she said.

“But at the same time, when I wake up in the morning‚ I am grateful to be alive and that they know they have a mother, opposed to not having [one].”

For Razana Botha, 37, who was pregnant when she was jailed in 2016‚ prison was a blessing in disguise for her and her daughter, now 17 months.

“I think I have more time with her here inside‚” she said‚ comparing it to how she raised her three other children whom she left on the outside.

“I spent most of my time with her here‚ not leaving her [by] running off or going to work‚” Botha said.

The bond between mother and daughter is undeniable as the little girl beams and laughs while her mother pushes her on a squeaky swing.

Madela agrees that her daughter has been a lifeline.

“I think about if I didn’t have her‚ where would I be, because she is also the pillar of my strength,” she said.

“Would I still be alive? Would I still be doing other crimes? She has made me understand my life.”

The Mother and Child Unit is separate from the regular prison.
Its walls are painted with cartoon characters and bright flowers. There is a patch of green grass‚ little scooters‚ a swing‚ slide and jungle gym.

A room used as a creche has colourful walls‚ play mats, bottles and cots.

The Department of Correctional Services provides the necessary nutrition‚ medical care and social programmes to ensure the wellbeing of the children.

This has given some comfort to Megan Abrahams‚ 29, who is six months’ pregnant with her first child.

Abrahams has been behind bars for three months now, for fraud.

“You’re treated like a human being,” she said. “I think that’s what made it much easier for me here.”

She admits it has been emotionally draining to go through this journey without her mother’s support‚ seeing her only during short weekend visits.

While the department allows new mothers to keep their children at the facility until they are two, Abrahams wants to keep her daughter for just a year because she wants her to have as normal a childhood as possible.

“They don’t see their family. They are limited to only this,” she said.

Although they would have loved to celebrate Mother’s Day differently‚ being incarcerated has not taken the joy of motherhood away from these women.

Madela beamed with pride as she spoke of the day her daughter was born.

“When I saw them bringing her to me‚ everything just fell into place.

“I said ‘this too shall pass. I won’t be in here forever’.

“She brought light into my life because I had been in a very dark place.”

For her and others who have children outside the prison walls‚ the children serve as a motivation to turn their lives around and leave the prison as better people.

“Every day is a day [closer] to me being released,” Madela said.

“When I leave those gates‚ I imagine [my children] standing there with open arms.” – TimesLIVE