Giving it AIR in the inner city

2012-06-30 15:45

Hope comes on wheels for kids in the Maboneng Precinct

When Awonke Nyangule leaps into the air, skateboard firmly beneath his feet, he feels like he’s flying.

Awonke (8), nicknamed “Shorty” by his friends, is one of scores of children who flock to the Maboneng precinct in downtown Joburg every Saturday to skate, skip, read and play ball games.

The children are part of the Nollie Faith project, which Zean Ferreira started last year after seeing children rolling tyres around the neighbourhood while trying to entertain themselves.

Ferreira’s friends and assorted good Samaritans donate anything from skateboards to replacement wheels, shoes, clothes and their own time to the project.

In downtown Joburg there aren’t many safe playgrounds.

“They have nothing else to do. There are parks around here, but I feel threatened there – imagine what a kid feels like?

“The street is actually their sanctuary; we have sunlight, mates and camaraderie – now we have skateboarding, so it all actually works out. They’re tough as nails already, so that’s great,” says Ferreira.

When City Press visited the project on a wintry, sunny Saturday morning, children of all ages raced around kicking balls, sat quietly on blankets reading, skipped rope or huddled together chatting in small groups.

Kids whizzing by on four-wheeled boards bring the tiny portion of street to jubilant life – skateboarding is by far Nollie Faith’s main attraction.

“It’s nice to skate because we play, jump, drop and do ollies and backflips,” said nine-year-old Simphiwe Mazibuko.

“I like that I am able to jump things like planks and bricks when I do an ollie.”

A group of teenagers, who reckon they’re too cool to skate with the “little kids”, have formed their own crew – they call themselves “GC”, for “Goofy Crew”.

“Goofy” is a skateboarding style in which the right foot is always at the front of the board.

The boys in the crew are all from Newtown and love to skate.

“I skate for the fun of it and the love of skateboarding,” says 15-year-old Lizwi Mbanjwa.

“On the board you feel like you can do whatever, like ‘Wow, I’m this big pro’,” he says.

“Skating makes me feel like the boss,” says 14-year-old GC member Faadil Hough. “It’s so relaxing; I love it.”

It’s probably a little less relaxing for drivers trying to navigate past the young skateboarders.

Some impatient motorists hoot, and passers-by click their tongues and shout things like, “Ooooh! You’re taking chances!” or “You’re going to fall and break your legs,” in Zulu.

But their warnings are not enough to deter the young skaters, whose wheels whirr as they focus on the next trick.

Ferreira is also planning to introduce computer lessons, and wants to expand the project to Alexandra and Reiger Park.

His goal for Nollie Faith is simple.

“I want to enable these kids to see the city differently and look at it as a playground. If they could look at what we’ve got here (in Maboneng) and figure out how to use it, if they could (learn to) look at life differently, they’d be able to handle any situation, and I’m happy with that.”


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