Soccer Saves: Soccer Team Changes Lives at South African Prison

"It gives me hope that Mandela was in this prison that I am," said Mtingane. "If Mandela was able to make it in this prison, so I tell myself, I can make it as he did."

The Hope Academy program has been in place at Drakenstein since 2008. Eighteen of its players have been released, and only two returned to prison.

"You're sort of half-hearted," said Slessenger, "because you see your best center leave the prison and you're like, 'Oh, no, I wish he could stay 'cause it weakens the team.' But you want to see that boy go on and be successful in his life, so it's dual feelings that happen."

Inmates Find Success, Struggles Outside

Andre Soetwateer was just released three months ago. He is working as an electrician now, playing in a soccer league. But he lives in the Cape Flats, a depressed area like so many others in South Africa. "It's very hard, very hard,'' he said. "A lot of friends (are) smoking and using drugs....So for me to come outside out of prison, not doing that, is very hard for me to get in with them and try to communicate with them."

And no soccer team can solve the soaring crime rate in South Africa. But inside Drakenstein, at a minimum, the Hope Academy is offering inmates some hope.

"It is a dangerous life to become a Christian in prison," said Mtingane. But his devotion to his faith has carried him this far and he is confident it will help him when he is freed from prison.

"I'm doing so many good things for people,'' he said. Adding, "I'm so happy."

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