From inmate to pastor

THE transformation of Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services in 2013 into a Correctional institute has given inmates an opportunity to showcase their vast talents to the world.

Bhekimpilo Maphosa, who is an ex-convict, utilised his time in prison to transform himself into a productive citizen by embracing rehabilitation programs offered during his time behind bars.

He is now a recording artiste and ordained pastor. This is thanks to a Diploma in Pastoral studies that he did with Zimbabwe Christian College while in prison and invaluable choreography, instrumental arrangement and vocal harmonising training that he got behind bars.

Maphosa, who is now based in South Africa, told B-Metro that rehabilitation was a process that required the commitment of an inmate in various areas and some of these include willingness to refocus and reposition in life.

Bhekimpilo Maphosa

“The story of my life started when I was a transporter better known as ‘umalayitsha’ servicing the Zimbabwe South Africa route. 

“As we were operating we discovered that a lot of guys, who were in the same trade with us, were using that same opportunity to export stolen copper to South Africa as another means of survival which made us join the band wagon,” he said.

Maphosa said he was part of a seven-member-gang that traded in copper for a very long time and their suppliers developed confidence in them to the extent that they ended up delivering their orders at their door steps.

These deliveries became so frequent such that their competitors decided to make a tip off to the police as a way of reducing competition, in the small but paying industry.

“When we ventured into the stealing and trafficking of copper industry, I saw a big difference in terms of development as this industry had high returns if we are to compare with being a malayitsha without crime involved.

“The team that I was working with rose to greater heights as we had our supplier who was feeding us with orders to transport for reselling in South Africa.

“Deliveries made by our supplier really affected our competitors and they were left with no option but to report us to the police, who organised an ambush,” he said.

The ex-convict said it was on a Tuesday evening in 2014, when they were raided by officers from the minerals section and were caught in the process of packing copper that was meant to be transported across the border the next morning.

He said they tried to bribe the police officers so that the issue could be swept under the carpet, but unfortunately the detectives refused to take hush money.

“When we discovered that we had been ambushed by the police we tried to offer bribes, but unfortunately they refused our offers instead they arrested us and took the copper that was in our possession as evidence.

“The issue was later taken to court, where the magistrate sentenced each of us to 10 years in jail,” he said.

Maphosa said soon after conviction he could not believe that he was going to be in prison for 10 years and to make matters worse he was not going to see his wife and two kids, who were looking up to him as the bread winner.

“At first I could not believe that I had been given such a lengthy sentence and as a team we tried to appeal against both conviction and sentence but all those efforts were not successful.

“When our appeal papers were turned down, that’s when I discovered that it was time to serve for the crime that I had committed during my days as umalayitsha operating from Zimbabwe to South Africa,” he said.

Maphosa said on arrival at Khami Maximum Prison with his co-accused they decided to accept Jesus Christ as their saviour. With the dedication they showed the chaplaincy office decided to incorporate into a leadership team for activities that involved inmates.

“On arrival at Khami Maximum the chaplaincy office took us to be part of the work in the office, and it became our duty to organise all church events that were being held at the prison involving inmates.

Khami Maximum Prison

“As days went by, we started getting visits from outside churches which would come to minister, and in the process we discovered that we did not have a praise and worship team instead we would invite the imbube team.

“We felt this really exposed our chaplain’s office so in the support of the chaplain’s office we formed a group called ‘Voice of Praise’. It’s been three years since I left prison but I am happy to announce that the group is still alive and kicking,” he said.

The ex-convict said he trained group members in key areas which included composing, arranging, keyboard playing and leading all the songs on stage.

“These skills have really helped in making this project continue going forward even if I left prison after having qualified on the presidential amnesty of 2020,”he said.

Maphosa said even if he is now based in South Africa, he still supports his brothers that he left in prison as he formed this group with inmates, who had been brought to prison on various crimes. Incorporating inmates from various backgrounds brought variety in the group such that a well-wisher Velaphi Gumbo felt challenged to record the group’s first project titled Ngithathe Nginje. 

The ex-convict said this eight track project was composed basing on Romans 3:23 which says come let us reason together. 

They chose this verse as they believed that God had brought them to prison to perfect them regardless of their sinful past.

“I know we sinned before but our coming to prison is not all about condemning us but to correct us and with the time we got into prison we discovered that for sure we had wronged the nation. So to avoid reoffending I am happy to announce to you that I took that opportunity to do my Ordinary Level, Advanced Level and I later did my Diploma in Pastoral studies with Zimbabwe Christian College.

“We later travelled to Harare in 2018 for graduation and that really helped me refocus in terms of who I am and what I wanted to do soon after completing my jail term.

“In 2020 God heard my prayers as I was short-listed on the beneficiaries of the presidential amnesty, and before I left prison, I told myself that I would never get into crime again,” he said.

Upon release, Maphosa moved back to South Africa to reunite with his family and at the moment he is working as a driver and a minister at Grace House Family Church in South Africa.

“To be honest with you my brother I learnt that crime does not pay and I am actually working for my Lord and that will see me aging in grace as I still want to see my children grow.

“As for those who are into crime my advice is very simple, that industry does not pay instead it has got a lot of regrets and nothing else,” he ended. 

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