By Sandra Lesenyeho
Lerato Manaka has a fierce spirit that burns so bright inside of her that others can’t help but stop to admire as she assumes her change agent persona. She changes the world of ex-offenders one step at a time with her winning spirit. Her ability to run Modiehi Mongale Foundation and Leraman media is in her DNA and runs in her veins from her late grandmother Modiehi Mongale who was a game changer in her community just like Lerato.
Modiehi Mongale foundation was established in 2017, two months prior to Lerato’s incarceration. The name of the foundation was given to Lerato at birth. However her mother had a fear that naming her after a deceased person would make her lose her daughter sooner than later.
This stems from Lerato’s mother being worried as she previously lost two of her daughters, believing their lives were lost because of naming them after the deceased. Her name was changed to Lerato.
“Little did my mother know that I would turn out like my grandmother” Manaka said. Modiehi Mongale was a well known community builder.
The NPO is inspired by Manaka’s willingness to change the quality of others’ lives, particularly ex woman offenders because she can relate to the experience of being stigmatized because of her time in prison.
“Ex-offenders carry the stigma even after they have paid their debt” says Lerato. That is why she educates communities about crime, stigma around ex-offenders and spreads the spirit of second chances and forgiveness in her awareness program.
The core of the NPO tackles socio-economic issues such as poverty and unemployment of women ex-offenders. Criminal records hinder ex-offenders from employment opportunities, leading to poverty. This then increases the chance of reoffending.
The NPO has a dancing group and choir that perform in schools, churches, and around communities. It was formed in the correctional service.
It is with no surprise that fate would lead Manaka to be appointed as Vice Chairperson for the sports, recreational and culture committee representing 240 inmates in the woman correctional service in Johannesburg. She was sentenced from 2017-2020 after defrauding her employer.
When she was incarcerated Lerato comments that she managed the entire portfolio but more importantly she was honored to be part of the tremendous talent. From that time she vowed that when she is released she wants her foundation to focus on ex-women offenders. Her next big move is to address education issues around ex-offenders within the foundation.
Modiehi Mongale foundation focuses on women ex-offenders. However as of 1 November 2021 the NPO will welcome male ex-offenders as the prison population is dominated by male offenders.
Manaka says her qualification in business management gives her flair in business. “I was the only student that passed first year at the University of Johannesburg and the Dean informed my parents that a special timetable will be designed especially for me” says Lerato. Although she wanted to study accounting the business management course had her name written all over it.
The same winning spirit she always had is demonstrated once again in 2015-2017 when her successful communication and media business Leraman Media achieved success on Papa Penny Ahee season 1 and was also involved in publicity work and event planning in the entertainment industry. She ventured into business while awaiting her trial, when she could no longer find employment.
“We cannot be controlled by our past and we need to learn to accept and let go” says Lerato. The business woman and NPO founder further says “it is the present moment that needs our attention in order to plan for the future”.