In the album Four String Confessions, Sereetsi and the Natives has a song Chankaneng. It is “about how society hardly gives ex-inmates a second chance when they return from prison to the extent that some end up in jail… Is it not enough that these men and women have duly paid their debt to the society?” (album sleeve).
Ditiro Leero was released from prison on account of his good behaviour in December 2015 having served part of his sentence. Ditiro’s release was celebrated by many. In the middle of such euphoria came a Mmegi article which principally asked us to pause for a while and see Ditiro not as a musician, but more so as a rapist. The writer of the article wished not to be misunderstood: “Personally, I am not against the pardoning of rapists, but my bone of contention is the people’s celebration when rapists are pardoned.” So, the writer found fault with the celebrations and not so much with the pardoning of the rapists. And so it seemed. However, the writer went further and was disturbed that: “Our society chose to forget the evil deeds that these men have done. No one paused and thought about those 14-year-olds, who were scarred for life by these men.” Now it is clearer. The writer wrote the article to show solidarity with the victims and wanted to remind us of the sins of these men, which he suspects “our society chose to forget”. The issue for the writer is really not the people who celebrate the rapists’ release. It is that we should forever see musicians who once served a prison sentence for rape, such as Ditiro Leero, as rapists, some scum of the earth who “cannot be role models”. In fact Sereetsi and the Natives was right. We don’t give former inmates a chance. We don’t think they could be rebuilt and rehabilitated. Even after they have served their prison sentence we still choose to label them and victimize them. This is in part because we choose to see only one side of an individual. Indeed Ditiro Leero is a convicted rapist and former inmate. However, I choose to celebrate him principally because he is a talented musician who can continue to contribute to the Setswana music and song. This doesn’t mean that I have forgotten that he was convicted of rape and jailed. In fact I chose to embrace him in spite of such knowledge. I choose to encourage him to devote his energies to music which may turn out to be a redemptive force for him. I choose forgiveness over bitterness and a quest for vengeance. I choose to have faith in the transformative power of prison. I am fully aware that no jail time can be enough punishment for what Leero did. But I choose not to define him by his past. I choose to have faith in the human spirit; that Leero though he was down, he can rise again. I stand with the multitudes at prison gates to meet him, to welcome him back to the society; to affirm to him that though he was a condemned man, he is still one of us. I love him and encourage him, in spite of his past because I know we all need a second chance every day. I wish to conclude with a Biblical lesson to us, that God “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” Perhaps we should also learn to show mercy to others, since we ourselves have been shown mercy when we least deserved it.
**Photo Credit: Mmegi Newspaper