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The theme of the Ubuntu Learning Community (ULC) short course for 2020 is “We are because I am: Changing selves and communities”. This theme will be explored through the perspectives of law, literature, history, visual/performing arts and economics.

The ULC short course is a social impact collaboration between Stellenbosch University (SU) and Brandvlei Correctional Centre initiated by Dr Mary Nel, senior lecturer at the SU Law Faculty.

According to a press release on the SU website, the course aims at “rehumanising learning through a process of encouraging and initiating collaboration, community-building and connectedness between SU and prisoners in Brandvlei Maximum Correctional Centre”.

“We often fear, and sometimes even hate, people we don’t know. In South Africa, many of us have limited opportunities to step out of our comfort zones to engage with and learn from people who have very different backgrounds and life experiences from ours,” Nel said.

At the end of last year, the members of the ULC programme had a brainstorming session and thus decided that this year, the short course will place a lot of emphasis on discussions and lessons about gender in response to the gender-based violence issue in South Africa.

According to the group members some objectives of the course “are to help learners recognise the value of perspectives of those who have different frames of reference, to perform a reflection on the broader shared societal opportunities and challenges and to build knowledge and understanding of issues related to the theme”.

Caitlin Kleynhans, Student Coordinator for the ULC, says that programs such as these are important as they afford people a chance to learn in unfamiliar environments and to learn with and from people with different frames of reference from them.

Moreover, she believes it “breaks barriers between the community and correctional facilities, by empowering students to change the social narrative around people who are released from prison in order to reduce stigma and decrease high levels of recidivism”.

“The concept of prison is so far removed from our realities that we as society tend to blindly accept imprisonment and the stigma that accompanies it as a viable system of justice. Perhaps it is time for society to begin questioning the effectiveness of South Africa’s criminal justice system’s reliance on incarceration especially once the high level of recidivism is taken into account,” Kleynhans said.

Whilst the subjects will be focused on gender, the facilitators of each subject explained that they will explore the topic in a different way from others during their lessons.

 For example, history will consist of discussions surrounding gender history and the exclusion of women from historical accounts, and in literature the story of the life of a man who has been released from prison will be explored. The facilitators involved in the course are Dr Mary Nel (course coordinator and law facilitator), Dr Chet Fransch (history facilitator), Dr Debra Shepard (economics facilitator), Dr Lizabé Lamrecthts (music facilitator), Mrs Stephané Huigen-Conradie (Art facilitator) and Dr Daniel Roux (English facilitator). Each facilitator will give two or three sessions about a subject.

According to Kristen Warner, a third-year BA (Humanities) student that completed the course, “it was such a positive and powerful experience”.

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