He used to carry R1000 at a time in a roll in his throat, and in his jacket pocket he would smuggle cell phones to the prisoners on the inside. He used to be on the outside.
Many of those around him at the prison eat the sugary strawberry-flavoured biscuits on the table, but not Bonginkosi* He doesn’t put “just anything” into his body any more.
Now, he drinks only water and milk.
He drinks it with purpose. “Allahu akbar” is followed by three intentional sips.
He weighs every choice.
At the beginning he got into fights. First, they landed him in prison and then in solitary confinement. The first time in solitary, it was for 9 months, for violence. He did nothing with his time. The second time, it was for 90 days, out of choice and for his own protection. He fasted and prayed.
These days Bonginkosi considers it a privilege to choose what to do with the R1 400 he receives every month from sponsors. It was when he began swimming that his determination to change his world got him noticed. That was at the last prison. Now there is no pool but he still dreams about it, and the sponsors have stuck with him.
“When I’m in the water, I feel free,” he says.
And the money he gets now is more than he used to make from his last gig – secretly growing marijuana in the grounds of a high security prison.
At first he would spend this money on snacks and cigarettes. Last month, he used it to order 56 Qurans instead. Thirty people converted to Islam, just like he had.
He used to be in the highest security prison in the country, and now he is in the lowest. He used to have contact only with members of the 26s, and now his family comes to visit him every weekend.
Bonginkosi’s world has changed since the day one of his friends shot and killed a man during a robbery. Bonginkosi was there, and that’s why he is now here.
For several years the man’s son sought a gang that would help him avenge his father. Then he came to the prison and met Bonginkosi face to face. With their extended families present, the first meeting was tentative. But the young man has persevered.
Now, he is Bonginkosi’s Muslim brother, and visits him every week. They have made their peace.