Sport scores social development goals

Football foundation gives members more than just a place to play the beautiful game.

Sport saved Mziyanda Matiwane’s life. Like many who live in the Overberg region, his story could have been one of struggle, abuse and tragedy. But as a football coach to hundreds of underprivileged children from Gansbaai, Masakhane and Blompark, Matiwane’s world is now filled with joy, inspiration and satisfaction.

Founded in 2008, the Grootbos Football Foundation is a sport development programme that offers various group and individual sports activities. More than a decade later, it is sparking an evolution in three communities and continues to affect the lives of thousands of children every year – almost 10 000 to be exact. Incredibly, and often through the generosity of strangers, between 200 and 300 children are fed at practice daily. For some, it’s their only meal for the day.

The Overberg region has a combined population of more than 100 000 and encompasses the pristine Kogelberg and Walker Bay nature reserves. It includes the popular tourist areas of Hermanus and Gansbaai, where some properties can sell for up to R40 million. But in Masakhane, tin shanties and simple brick homes line streets named after struggle icons Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Joe Slovo. A better live has been slow to arrive for the generations who left the former homelands of Ciskei and Transkei to settle here since the dawn of democracy in 1994.

Communities working together

“The foundation changed my life in a positive way,” says Matiwane. “I’m sure I would have been involved in drugs or in a gang if it wasn’t for the foundation. Because of the development we have here, everything changed. My life changed.”

The 28-year-old has been a part of the foundation’s football programme since he was a teenager. He was drawn to it by the warmth of the programme’s volunteers and mentors; and through the beautiful game, he was able to find a home and a career. “When I started playing in the Under-17s, the younger boys in Under-13 looked up to me as an older brother. When I started coaching, a lot of them stayed because they believe they can be like me and coach one day. I’m everything to them. I also teach AIDS awareness and life skills programmes in schools,” says Matiwane.

The warmth Matiwane refers to comes from businessman and co-owner of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve Michael Lutzeyer, the head of the Grootbos Foundation. Lutzeyer is the driving force behind the organisation’s foray into uncharted territory – sport for social development.

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For two years, before a blade of grass was even planted, there were late-night meetings in Masakhane, heated exchanges in Blompark and doubts among residents who anticipated the sting of broken promises.They had every reason to be cynical, but Lutzeyer had other ideas.

“We went in and engaged with the community, and came out with a space that everybody shares and grows,” says Julie Cheetham, the managing director of the Grootbos Foundation. “The secret ingredient is the people: the staff, the Board members at the foundation and our coaches. The shortest that any of our coaches have been with us is six years.”

Through a process of diplomacy and hell-raising, the Grootbos Football Foundation attracted the moral support it needed from the South African Football Association, while big business and donors funded programmes. Various other benefactors emerged out of nowhere – a testament to the influence of Lutzeyer and his team, who run the foundation like a business.

Leán Muller has been at the programme since the beginning. “The aim was to bring all three communities – Masakhane, Blompark and Gansbaai – together. The journey has been incredible, and an example to other organisations in the country of all the entities pulling together: local government, private sector, provincial government and then private sponsors. This is how we’re going to change this country, from the ground up,” Muller says. “It’s through youth development; it’s through giving access to infrastructure and opportunities.”

Sport for development

Spaces for Sport, run by British multinational bank Barclays, came on board early and its connection to the English Premier League has opened exciting doors for the foundation.

When Matt Dixon, a skinny young Englishman arrived in Gansbaai from the UK in 2008, he wasn’t prepared for the culture shock. As one of the first overseas volunteers to enter the programme, he really didn’t know what he was getting himself into. Now Dixon coordinates the English Premier League’s corporate social responsibility efforts across South Africa.

“The disconnect between Cape Town and here in the Gansbaai area is apparent. You can still see underlying issues from the past. You had the black, white and coloured communities, and there was not much integration between them. It was an abnormal situation to land myself in, only because I didn’t think that this still existed all these years later,” says Dixon.

“When I got on to the pitch, I don’t think I’ve seen so many kids fit on an Astroturf as I’ve seen on my first day. I was handed 100 kids and told: ‘Right, do a session.’ We had only a couple of balls. Some of the kids had football boots but some didn’t,” says Dixon.

Only 52% of the population of the Overstrand municipality is employed, and household income sits at R30 000 per annum, according to the last census survey in 2016. In Masakhane township, the annual income is half that, and only 32% of dwellers have passed matric.

Reaching beyond football

The foundation’s project manager, Natasha Bredekamp, brings her inimitable style and passion to the young boys and girls, who hang on to every word of encouragement she has to give. “Daily, we train about 250 to 400 kids. We work across the Overberg area and even outside of it. Initially, it was only about team sport like soccer, netball and rugby, but then we thought, what about the individual and the kids who enjoyed running? So we started athletics and canoeing, where kids wanted to participate but not necessarily as part of a team.

“The three communities used to be very segregated. The school fields were fenced off from each other. Now, the kids from all the different communities play together in a combined team. So, when we go around to pick up the players in the bus, the kids from the white communities are taken aback,” Bredekamp says with a wry smile. “Many of them had never seen a township, let alone been to one, even though they live within walking distance. It’s a learning opportunity and an eye-opener for them. Now they teach each other songs in their vernacular – Xhosa and Afrikaans.”

Xolani Bennet Msweli, the ward councillor for Masakhane township, glows with pride when he speaks about the foundation. “This programme means a lot to this community where there is poverty. Before 2008, there was nothing like this. Kids were stuck in the location with nothing to do. This is a relatively new township. It was established after 1994. There are about 14 000 people staying here now. Nothing of this sort has happened before,” he says.

More often than not, it is the kids attached to the foundation who are chosen as prefects at the local schools. Some of the first group of Under-15s who started at the foundation have made it to university. The field of dreams, now firmly established in the Gansbaai region, extends beyond football and sporting codes. Life skills, gender empowerment and health awareness all form part of a collaborative effort to provide lasting, meaningful skills for young people.

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The programme has been so successful that the first high school in the area, Gansbaai Academia, a free, multicultural institution, was built right next to the sport field in 2010. It serves more than 750 learners from all three communities and is an example of integrated learning for particular outcomes. The school has a special focus on tourism, hospitality and maritime studies.

Unemployment, teenage pregnancies and poaching are the most pressing social ills plaguing this community, according to Msweli. “Poaching gangs tend to have money and are able to exploit young girls in the community because of this. A lot of young people quit school to join abalone farms where they could earn R3 500 per month or join poachers, whereas if they completed school and studied further they would improve their chances of earning more.”

But Msweli has seen the face of the community change since 2008, with programmes motivating children to aspire to greater heights. “When you take these kids out of the community and give them the experience of travelling and staying in hotels on sport trips, for example, they get to shower for the first time, and when they go back home, they either want to work hard to be able to have those things or they begin to ask why they can’t have those luxuries,” he says.

The Gansbaai communities have only started to reap the benefits sown by the Grootbos Football Foundation since 2008. More than a decade down the line, progress is tangible.

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