Stander gang's Heyl has no sympathy with prisoners

“I’m not here to say sorry about your hard time in prison. You brought it upon yourself,” Allan Heyl, member of South Africa’s infamous Stander gang, told a group of juvenile prisoners at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg on Thursday.

Heyl, a former prisoner, was among guests invited to Constitutional Hill, which played host to an annual prisoners’ day comprising talks by invited speakers and ex-prisoners as well as a tour of the historic precinct.

Heyl and Ngila “Mike” Muendane—a former secretary general of the Pan Africanist Congress who has also spent time in jail—addressed teenaged prisoners from the Leeuwkop correctional services facility.

As the last surviving member of the Stander gang, who committed a string of bank robberies in and around Johannesburg in 1983 and 1984, Heyl is now a motivational speaker.

Telling the prisoners that “karma is what gets you”, he explained that he did not feel sorry for them and that it was up to them, upon their release, to find a “new better reality”. He added: “We create our own reality with our thoughts; what we visualise will materialise.”

Heyl also said: “I saw a bank with one teller in it. The more I saw myself robbing the bank, the more it became a reality. I finally robbed the bank and because I was not caught, I tried it again. Justifications such as ‘I didn’t hurt anyone’, ‘I was not caught’, ‘I need the money to survive’, make the wrongdoing seem like the right thing.”

Looking at his own life, he explained how bad thoughts and ideas proved his downfall. It was only while serving his last jail term, he said, that he was directed by a psychologist into doing something worthwhile.

“I studied art and I learnt Greek,” said Heyl, and this helped him improve his life.

He said that when the prisoners were released, most of them would not find employment. “You will not get a job when you leave, but I’m sure you have a stove and an oven; then you are employed. A small piece of ground—you are employed; till the ground and grow vegetables.”

Muendane was imprisoned for sabotage from 1963 to 1970, and an inmate on Robben Island during that period.

Speaking before Heyl, he also reminded the prisoners that “anger does not construct or build anything and you must decide to do something about it”. He said there were many types of “ladders” in the world, and the one they decided to climb would lead them to different places.

On one ladder they would hit a brick wall and not know what to do in their life; another would get them to the roof or landing but they would found no joy. However, they should aim for the ladder where they “found fulfilment, as it is everything you climbed the ladder for. People who ask the right questions and step on the right ladder will find fulfilment.”

Muendane and Heyl emphasised that leaving prison was not easy, but all prisoners had a choice in how to lead their life afterwards.

“Go out and make millions. I survived the impossible by dreaming the impossible,” said Heyl.

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