Cricket dreams die on unsafe pitch in Khayelitsha

Harry Gwala Secondary School principal Gcinisile Mlungu laments how a pitch that was supposed to grow the sport in the school and surrounding areas now lies unused because of vandalism.

Joy and enthusiasm marked the opening of the cricket pitch at Harry Gwala Secondary School in Khayelitsha, Cape Town – before vandalism rendered the field unsafe to use. Cement company PPC, in partnership with Proteas legend JP Duminy’s foundation, built and handed over the pitch worth R30 000 on 21 February. 

“It’s always a warm feeling to be part of something like this,” Duminy said at the time. “When tangible change happens, you can see it, touch it, and you quite quickly share a vision. We hope that students stay on the field and off the streets. 

“It’s important to me that students dream, thrive and live. This investment is our commitment to changing lives and creating opportunities, demonstrating the importance of partnering with local companies who believe in impacting the lives of the communities in which we operate.”

07 June 2021:Gcinsile Mlungu, the principal, says that the school is trying to get public works to make much needed repairs to the building. Photographer: Barry Christianson.

The JP21 Foundation is “dedicated to revitalising the game of cricket in underdeveloped communities and schools” by making the game more accessible. But this objective is being curtailed by some residents from a nearby shack settlement Gomora, whose establishment coincided with the launch of the pitch.  

Some residents from this settlement have allegedly cut the school’s fence to pass through the field on which the pitch is situated as they make their way to and from surrounding areas. The school’s principal, Gcinisile Mlungu, said some had cut the fence to use in their yards. “Learners are no longer safe. The environment is not conducive for sport.”

As the school boasts a huge field, it was decided that other cricket-playing schools would also use the pitch so that they could get some game time. But the pitch has remained idle, with the mats and stumps kept at the school. “We cannot risk leaving them here,” said Mlungu.

Unfulfilled promises 

A grade 12 pupil, Thabo Kraal, 18, who is an allrounder, said the cutting of the fence had made pupils scared to play there. “We have to be guarded if we want to practise. We are not safe right here on this field.” 

Kraal, who started playing cricket when he was in grade 6 at Ludwe Ngamlana Primary School, said he doubted whether the construction of the pitch would create opportunities for pupils to play the sport.

Mihle Famfam, 18, a batsman who is in matric, said the pitch was meant to encourage children with an interest in cricket to come and play at the school. “The problem is that it is not used. It is just staying here,” he said. 

7 June 2021: From left, grade 12 pupils Yongama Mafilika, Thabo Kraal, Simamkele Dyantyi, Asive Sixaso and Mihle Famfam are members of the school’s cricket team.

Mzamo Ntlungu, a parent, slammed the vandalism that is hampering the development of cricket in Khayelitsha. “How can a grown-up person cut the school’s fence? What about the safety of their children? This pitch can produce the next Makhaya Ntinis and JP Duminys. But the same parents whose children are taught at the school are doing this.”

Ntlungu said the vandalism would only stop if the community stood together and took care of the school. “We thought we could use the size of our pitch and become the centre of cricket in Khayelitsha, not just for schools but for the community as well. But that cannot happen as the environment does not allow play to take place. We wanted to host tournaments here. But we cannot as it is not safe.”

7 June 2021: Principal Gcinisile Mlungu says Harry Gwala Secondary School is in disrepair because it was poorly constructed and maintenance is lacking.

The chairperson of the Harare community police forum, Funeka Soldaat, said the solution lay in the school and residents working together. “The stealing of the fence has been a problem at Harry Gwala for years,” she said. “Given that, it is up to the management of the school to choose if they want to be part of a school safety committee so that they can get protection from every stakeholder tasked with the responsibility of protecting schools.”

Harare Neighbourhood Watch coordinator Lungisa Shumana said: “We will sit down and talk to the principal and the community to find out what is the reason behind this theft. It is only then that we will decide on what action to take.”

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