From convict to coder: Sihle Tshabalala's story

Sihle Tshabalala went from being a member of the 26s gang to a self-taught computer programmer.

Lead SA hero of the month for August 2014, Sihle Tshabalala. Picture: LeadSA.

CAPE TOWN - Born and raised in Langa, Sihle Tshabalala at a young age turned to a life of crime and ended up in prison as a member if the 26s gang.

Tshabalala says, "With nothing to do, I started committing crimes. I started off with petty crimes and gradually got involved in business robberies and cash-in-transit heists. And then I went to prison for about 11 years, for robbery."

It was upon being moved to a maximum security facility that Tshabalala says he just woke up and decided he wanted to change his life.

"One day it just dawned on me. I had a moment of awakening and decided this is not on."

He started by using the money he'd accumulated as a gang member and bought soup and tea for prisoners, to lure them into the ice cold storerooms in prison, which had been turned into classrooms.

There he taught Maths and English, two of his favourite subjects, which he excelled at when in school.

"We used to bribe them [the prisoners] by making them soup and making them drink coffee while teaching them in the classrooms."

Tshabalala has since taught himself computer programming so that he can work for himself.

He realises not many employers will hire a person who's obtained a criminal record.

He now, as the national coordinator for Brothers for All, teaches other ex-prisoners who are interested in computer programming.

Brothers for All is an organisation providing youth, offenders and ex-inmates with job skills and opportunities.

"I piloted the programming and taught myself how to code using two online platforms."

Tshabalala completed his self-training, through Codecademy, within six weeks.

LISTEN: _Cape Talk 567's Kieno Kammies speaks to Sihle Tshabalala about his journey into changing his life for the better. _


This month, Tshabalala became the Western Cape Lead SA Hero for August.

He was nominated by Filipa Domingues who after meeting him, was moved by his story.

Tshabalala said he wanted to do something constructive and positive with his life.

"I wanted to know that one day when I left those doors, I would leave a changed man.

"I have seen what has transpired in my life outside and inside [prison], and I had a thought that I cannot keep on keeping on, doing what I was doing. I needed a moment of change."

Find out more about this initiative.

You can also email Tshabalala directly: