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Twinning Project kicks off rehabilitation in Africa



As the whistle blew signifying the start of the much anticipated friendly between football stars SuperSport United and the inmates of Kgoŝi Mampuru II correctional centre in Tshwane recently, a member of the stadium sat back and watched with pride.

It was a vision come true for South African born Hilton Freund, chief executive of the Twinning Project, a global social-upliftment charity that twins prisoners with their local football club. The project originated in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2018 as the brainchild of football legend David Dein MBE, an international football ambassador and the former co-owner of Arsenal Football Club. The idea behind it is to use football as a catalyst for change by providing football-based programmes that offer real opportunities to prepare prisoners for release.

Launching the initiative for the first time in Africa following in the footsteps of top international football clubs in the UK, America, Italy, and Australia, SuperSport United, the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, and the FIFA Foundation kicked off the Twinning Project last week at Kgoŝi Mampuru II correctional centre.

“I’ll always be South African,” said Freund, who lives in London and has been involved in the initiative from the start.

“My feet left, but my heart stayed behind, so bringing the project to this country is meaningful.

“The ultimate goal of the Twining Project is to provide upskilling educational opportunities to those serving custodial sentences, which will ultimately lead to more socially productive behaviour and create safer communities through the reduction of reoffending,” he said.

“Football has the power to change lives, provide hope, and create opportunities and, together with my football partners, it’s a privilege to bring our work to South Africa.”

In the UK, professional football clubs such as Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Everton, and Liverpool to name a few have partnered with His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to offer this innovative initiative designed to drive social change.

“Having seen the success within the criminal justice environments in the UK and the United States on the back of its collaborations with the English Premier League and Major League Soccer respectively, I thought, why not bring it to Africa?” Freund said. “When I approached FIFA, it was incredibly supportive of the idea. So, now the Twinning Project is expanding globally, bringing Africa onboard with this phase of expansion launched in South Africa.”

SuperSport United Chief Executive Stan Matthews said it was a proud moment to be the first professional club in Africa to partner with the Twinning Project.

“This initiative will assist with the rehabilitation of offenders using the power of sport, which for me ticks all the right boxes,” he said.

“On the field of play, we think we’re punching above our weight, but it’s also important for us to contribute meaningfully off the field. Changing lives for the better is one of the things we’ve tried to do through football and our club. We’ve done projects before with Kgoŝi Mampuru prison, which have worked well, so when we were presented with the opportunity of partnering with the Twinning Project, the idea resonated.

“It puts us in a global elite club of clubs partnering with prisons. We’re the first club in Africa to do so, which is exciting, in keeping with our nickname ‘matsatsantsa’ [the trendsetters], and hopefully, we’ll be flag bearers for more clubs in the Premier Soccer League and the Motsepe Championship to partner with local prisons, make a difference to society, and use football and sport to uplift and inspire people.

“By engaging in football activities, inmates have the opportunity to develop teamwork, leadership, and discipline, which are invaluable qualities if they are to reintegrate into society successfully,” said Matthews.

According to Freund, initially, 16 offenders will be selected, all of whom are relatively close to the end of their prison term and haven’t been involved in any violent or sexual crimes.

“Professional coaches from SuperSport United and football club staff, supported by prison physical-education teachers, will engage with the prisoners to deliver accredited coaching and employability-based sessions,” he said.

The football-based education consists of several weekly guided learning hours over a period of four weeks. By the end, the prisoners will have some coaching skills and will be exposed to all aspects of a football club from coaching, to catering and stewardship.

“This will take place three times in the year, totalling 48 prisoners, many of whom have received no formal training in their lives before this. It’s empowering,” he said.

Currently, 73 Premier League and English Football League clubs have partnered with the Twinning Project.

The recent friendly match turned into a thrilling encounter between the two sides, kicking off immediately after an address by dignitaries such as Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, Freund, and Matthews.

The matsatsantsa legends featured some players who won championship and cup competitions, such as Sibusiso “Sense” Mahlangu; Katlego “Killer” Mphela; Cavann “Shakes” Sibeko; and Raymond “Wewe” Seopa.

Other legends in the United team included Aubrey Lekwane; Desmond Chauke; Japie Motale; Thapelo Liau; and 1996 Bafana Bafana gold medallist Edward “MaGents” Motale.

The final score was 1-1 at regulation time, with forward Mphela scoring for United, and the match decided on penalties. The inmates won 2-1 on penalties.

Freund is also in talks with Kaiser Chiefs Football Club and Mamelodi Sundowns in this initiative.

“Football unites the world. The Twinning Project helps inmates improve their mental and physical health and well-being, and to obtain a qualification that can boost their life chances. Ultimately, the idea is to give people a second chance and turn their lives around.”

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