UR Slam Factor Inmate Talent Search contestants. CREDIT: Bertram Malgas
The Department of Correctional Services is looking for the most talented entertainers behind bars and has launched the UR Slam Factor Inmate Talent Search.

On Friday night, after two months of auditions and workshops, 21 acts took to the stage at a gala event held at the Pollsmoor recreational hall.

The competition is the brainchild of Shirley Paulse of the NGO Women in Action.

Dressed in suits and dresses, custom-made from prison uniforms, the show had dancers, singers, poets and a drama group, performing for a chance in the next Saturday’s final.

Surprisingly, of the 21 contestants who made it through to the final, one was 19-year-old Zikhona Madlalisha from Gauteng.

After struggling to contain her emotions, Zikhona, who is serving an eight-year sentence for murder, won the audience over with her heartbreaking poem.

The poem, titled What Made Me Who I Am, tells the story of how a young Zikhona was abused by her mother before being sent to Cape Town to live with her aunt, who continued to physically and emotionally abuse her.

“Today I am a bright and happy person, but getting to this point was a tough journey. I wanted to express my journey through my poetry,” a shy Zikhona said.

Then opera singer Lunga Tuba, 26, from Hermanus stole the show with his big voice that booms like the great Luciano Pavarotti.

The convicted house robber had all the mense on their feet as he belted his heart out, hitting all the high notes.

“I have been in here for eight months and have two more years left on my sentence and I would like to continue singing when I get out. I would need help to make a success,” he says.

Blown away by his talent, one of the judges, Byron Clarke, said: “Most people don’t realise that opera is a vocal discipline and if this was the Opera olympics, you would have received gold.”

Many of the inmates in the talent show said that taking part in the competition helped them work through the anger and pain they have been living with.

Pollsmoor area commissioner Clifford Mketshane says the competition has been a great success so far.

He says: “This is a platform for offenders to display their inner hidden talents and show society that people can change.”