WHEN Martin Maepa was convicted of robbery in 2013, many believed his life and the potential to be a productive and law abiding citizen had been ruined forever.
The fact that he had dropped out of school at the age of 19, in grade 10, did not help matters.
Neither did the fact that he had been in and out of jail for various crimes at such a tender age.
He was written off, as a lost and irredeemable soul, by most of his close friends and relatives.
For years, Maepa (40) had made a career out of crime. He terrorized and robbed his fellow residents in and around his Bothashoek village, Burgersfort, in Limpopo.
He quickly developed a reputation as a notorious and dangerous criminal that was feared by many in the area.
Maepa’s criminal activities and tricks finally ran out of steam when police cornered and arrested him for robbery.
The Praktiseer Magistrate Court eventually found him guilty and sentenced him to a year in jail.
Maepa paid his debt to society at the Polokwane Correctional Centre.
While many thought Maepa was now an irredeemable criminal incapable of ever eking out a living honestly, he turned his incarceration into a lifetime opportunity.
He embraced the government’s rehabilitation programmes and started honing his skills as an artisan.
It wasn’t long before he was a handy man.
A self-taught artist with no formal training and qualification, Maepa learned how to create flowers from fellow inmates while serving his sentence.
They taught him how to make flowers from weed roots, decorated with wires and glue.
He also learnt to craft beautiful chimney stoves, oven pans, and bowls using sheet metals.
“Everything happens for a reason. When I was sentenced little did I know it was not the end of the road,” Maepa said.
Unlike many ex-convicts, he has not gone back to his life of crime.
The ex-convict has instead used his newly acquired skills to set up a small but lucrative business.
He makes his art work from home and travels about 15km to sell them in Burgersfort – one of the fastest growing towns in the country due to its booming mining developments.
Most of Maepa’s customers are informal business owners and local street vendors.
And now “Bomber”, as he is affectionately among his customers, laughs all the way to the bank daily.
“I am now killing money, putting bread on the table and milk in the refrigerator with the skill acquired from prison. On a good business day I generate more than R1 000 selling each flower art for R20,” said Maepa.
“Having realised that crime does not pay, I decided to pursue my passion. It helps me make a living the correct way. I left prison a productive law abiding citizen.”
Maepa has credited the Department of Correctional Services for his new lease on life.
He said he was taught life skills and business management, as part of the government’s offender rehabilitation programmes.
The new skills helped to get him on the straight and narrow, shaped his character and made him realise that he could make a difference and add value to people‘s lives.
“I see this as a way to forget about the past mistakes, live in the present and walk into the future,” a confident Maepa boasted.
He blamed his poor family background for dropping out of school, and eventually making a career out of crime, claiming he was just trying to make a living.
Having returned to his Bothashoek village a productive and law abiding citizen, Maepa has proven that ex-convicts can be productive members of society provided they embrace rehabilitation programmes, and grab second chances given.
“As a reformed person, I have a dream of expanding my business and create jobs for the job hunters and participate in the growth of our country’s economy,” Maepa revealed.