Transformation from bottom up

2016-06-02 06:00
 Lathi Sandlana, 10, boasted that his strong legs would see him be the youngest fullback to play in the green and gold.

Lathi Sandlana, 10, boasted that his strong legs would see him be the youngest fullback to play in the green and gold.

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Bongo Dyalivane may not be built like a rugby player, but he claims to have the speed of Bryan Habana.

His love of the sport isn’t the only thing pushing this 9-year-old boy to succeed.

Dyalivane is a member of the Connect Sports Academy, which aims to improve the life and future of children living in Khayelitsha through sport.

Youth aged between 6 and 18 are taught the basics through touch rugby, with practice sessions taking place every afternoon.

“The next Springbok can come from this field,” co-director and coach Yanga Qinga told City Vision as his team – and a few unplanned visitors – practiced their passes.

“This programme has shown that township kids can hold their own against any opposition. Transformation doesn’t start in team selection. It starts at grassroots level.”

‘I am eating a lot so I will be big and strong soon’

Dyalivane may be scrawny, but he intends to build quite a bit of muscle by the end of the year.

“I am eating a lot so I will be big and strong soon, with arms like this,” he said, holding his hand 10cm away from his biceps.

“Then I will practice even harder and when I am good enough, I will play on TV.”

He dreams of one day buying his mother a new house and driving her around in his own car.

“That’s why I practice hard,” the shy boy said.

The children take part in competitive games at least once a week and the academy has partnered with the Atlantic Rugby Club, based in Green Point, to expose them to more experienced players, Qinga said.

“It’s about evening the playing field and creating a generation of strong, black players.

‘Rugby is not a white sport, just like soccer isn’t a black sport’

“Twenty years after democracy, the demographic trend in our national team hasn’t seen significant change.

“Rugby is not a white sport, just like soccer isn’t a black sport. But township children’s exposure to rugby has been extremely limited. This needs to be fixed.”

In the year since its inception, the programme has grown to more than just a sports organisation.

“It’s a sad reality that before taking up the sport, most of these children have never been outside this community,” Qinga said.

“Through sport, they are going places – literally. They love taking part in away games as they get to see the rest of the city and meet new people.”

Team captain Sidisa Dekeda, 14, dreams of moving to Camps Bay one day.

“And I will,” he said confidently. “I am practicing hard and eventually I will be the best at my position. Our coach keeps reminding us our dedication will pay off.”

‘I have big plans for myself’

While he admits to being surrounded by stark realities such as gangsterism and drug abuse, he refuses to be distracted by social ills.

“I have big plans for myself and bad things will stand in my way of moving forward. As the captain, it’s also my responsibility to lead by example. I can’t be distracted by bad things. That will hold me back.”

Coach Murray Ingram said the aim of establishing the sports academy in Khayelitsha was to develop young athletes.

“But the impact of this project has been multi-faceted. We are creating some good young rugby players while the kids are getting the opportunity to be part of the broader Cape Town society,” he said.

“They are getting exposed to a bunch of things they wouldn’t normally be exposed to. That’s a big part of what we try to do – kids from Khayelitsha should be fully integrated into the broader South African society and should be given the same opportunities as the privileged kids.”

No one is excluded from taking part in the programme, Qinga insisted.

‘Instead of hitting someone, come and hit a ruck’

“Bring the troublesome kids! This is a better alternative to forming bonds with gangs. Here we have a group of like-minded young people who are finding a positive outlet for their energy. Instead of hitting someone, come and hit a ruck.”

As the academy is part of a non-profit organisation, it is heavily dependent on donations to keep it running.

Costs for necessities such as transport, uniforms and meals can run into thousands per month, Ingram said.

“When I played rugby as a kid, my parents would take me to training and feed me. These kids come from circumstances which don’t really allow for that.”

He appeals to both individuals and businesses to donate toward keeping the programme running.

To assist, contact Antoinette Muller at

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