Meet KZN’s shining lights

2014-01-03 00:00

A number of KwaZulu-Natal residents helped change the lives of fellow citizens in 2013

in every sector, from charity to governance and scientific breakthrough. The Witness has identified stars within 10 very different fields — and invites readers to suggest

their own heroes, and categories, to celebrate. ROWAN PHILP reports.


Cheryl Johnson

The founder of Save Our Berea Campaign has mobilised half a dozen Durban suburbs to stop and potentially reverse a tide of illegal buildings, prostitution, grime and crime in the final months of 2013.

Rallying residents with a simple admonition to: “Stand up! Stand together!”, the community activist has triggered an civic movement.

Within a month of the campaign’s launch, the campaign’s Facebook site had attracted thousands of hits, a panel of experts now advise the cause and 400 people attended a public meeting.

Describing the movement as “nonpolitical, non-racial, non-elitist” effort to preserve the formerly leafy, suburban character of the Berea, Johnson’s primary goal is simply to pressure the eThekwini municipality to enforce its own bylaws — some of which were being openly flouted.

Rejecting rates boycotts as a strategy, Johnson insists that information and effective communication with local government is the key to the area’s future. The campaign’s working committee had already engaged with senior municipal officials.

Johnson’s war on grime has won support from leading violent crime-fighters like investigator Brad Nathanson, who said an effective crackdown on “little crimes” would see crime stats in the area drop “dramatically”.


Cindy Norcott

The owner of Pro-Appointments recruitment agency took charitable impact in Durban to a new level this year, with a major entrepreneurship, training and mentorship programmes for 300 unemployed youth. On top of 70 nutrition and support programmes for elderly women and babies this year, Norcott’s charity — The Robin Hood Foundation — has enabled a number of destitute young KwaZulu-Natal women to earn incomes and some have even become charity donors themselves.

Tozi Mthethwa, communications manager for eThekwini municipality, told The Witness: “What Cindy did with her entrepreneurship conference this year was stunning — what a contribution to the community!”

The foundation’s Entrepreneurship for Africa programme exposed 300 aspirant businesspeople to tips from cutting-edge business leaders with a conference in June, followed up with four mentorship workshops to develop business plans, and a free computer literacy course in November.

One delegate — Anna Khumalo — said a colleague at the conference, “Nthabiseng”, was already earning R3 000 per month with a fast-growing tuck shop business.

In August, Norcott (42) won the Services category in the “South Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government Awards”.

SUBURB SAFETY: Corne Broodryk

The chair of the Kloof Community Policing Forum has led a crime-fighting revolution in the upmarket Highway suburb this past year: setting up a close partnership with SAPS; an active social media network and neighbourhood street patrols that have slashed house break-ins by over 70% in 2013.

Now, Broodryk (40), a security consultant and former church pastor, and his private forum members are raising funds to build a police station in Kloof, where policemen currently have only prefabricated structures and two cars to patrol a suburb of 30 000 people.

The CPF raised R42 000 toward the building of the station at a single golf day event last month. Yesterday, The Witness told the story of how Broodryk’s team co-ordinated with Metro K9 police last week to catch a burglar and recover stolen goods — blocking streets into the suburb, using informants and an SAPS-generated description of the suspect to identify his address; and even help the police raise funds for a six-year-old victim of the crime.

Broodryk said, “The key has been in partnerships, in residents giving of their time with street patrols, and — instead of complaining — in doing everything we can to make the police look good.”


Sbu Shabalala

The youngest CEO on the Johannesburg stock Exchange in 2007, Durban’s Shabalala (40) has since grown his IT company, AdaptIT, into a revenue giant that employs 313 professionals.

Breaking with the stereotype of ruthless CEOs in the high tech sector, the quiet-spoken, church-going family man values “patience” as the highest business virtue — yet he has grown annual revenues for his company to over R300 million this year, and become a magnet for whizz-kid IT professionals. Shabalala also oversaw the roll out of a digital “knowledge centre” at an Amaoti primary school in 2013, and ploughed R2 million into IT skills development.

His company provides IT and cloud computing solutions to the education, mining and finance sectors.

The son of a pastor, Shabalala — once an aspirant electrical engineer — switched to computer science and business studies at UKZN in the early 1990s, and later took a year to master programming skills with U.S. giant Oracle. In a recent interview with Tech Central, Shabalala described his commuting life between Joburg and Durban: “My family is still based in Durban, so on Friday afternoons I fly down. Durban is a great place for kids to grow up. On Saturdays I catch up with friends and on Sundays I try to take the family to church.”


Afzul Rehman

Rehman, ANC mayor of Newcastle, has broken the trend of mismanagement, political dysfunction and corruption among KwaZulu-Natal municipalities to run a fast-growing, debt-free town that scooped three major awards this year, including the provincial mayor of the year award.

Earlier this year, Rehman became the first mayor to ban free lunches for councillors, and also saved R8 million by making Newcastle’s municipality the first paperless government structure in South Africa.

Newcastle’s budget for infrastructure has grown from R68 million when Rehman took the reins, to over R400 million this year, with completed projects including the Asiphephe Bridge that has cut the residents of neighbouring Madadeni township’s commute by 30 minutes.

Perhaps most significant was the co-operative collaboration between ruling ANC councillors and opposition members to run the city, which the DA’s Thomas Hadebe credited to Rehman’s “inclusive” leadership.

Rehman said he based his strategy not on ideology, but on direct advice from leading Newcastle businesses, including Mittal Steel, “We said, ‘guys, we want to be able to run our municipality exactly like you run your business — not to be profitable —, but we want be able offer a quality service at an affordable price.”


Sandile Ngcobo

UKZN science whizz-kid Ngcobo co-invented the world’s first digital laser last year — a breakthrough that experts say could revolutionise fibre optic communications around the globe.

Employed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s National Laser Centre, the 33-year-old first stunned the academic world with a breakthrough paper on “beam-shaping” in March and then wowed the global optics industry with a public announcement of his invention in September. He is also a doctoral candidate at UKZN.

One of a family of 10 children brought up in Kwa-Mafunze village near Pietermaritzburg, Ngcobo said, “I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a laser, although I used to be very impressed with the sword laser in movies such as Star Trek. And today I design lasers for a living!”

In a TED presentation in November, Ngcobo explained that the problem facing existing laser operators was that “the shape of what comes out of the laser is always fixed”.

Instead, Ngcobo and CSIR team leader Andrew Forbes showed that beams could be changed at the click of a computer mouse — “even into a smiley-face, if you want!” — by replacing one of the traditional mirrors with a specialised LCD screen, offering “almost limitless possibilities” for commercial application.


Dr Imtiaz Sooliman

In a year that saw him walking between exploding bombs and wading through flood waters, Pietermaritzburg’s Sooliman built a hospital and school in a Syrian war zone; a fire-resistant village in Cape Town’s shack fire zone; an entrepreneurship programme for KZN schoolchildren and a clinic in the hurricane-ravaged Philippines — among two dozen other charitable projects.

2013 marked the 21st year for Sooliman’s vast Gift of the Givers NGO and the milestone of “R1 billion spent in aid”.

Sooliman said the South African Hospital established in Darkoush, northern Syria, last year was “one of the most challenging projects ever”.

The hospital treated thousands of war casualties and sick residents in 2013, and somehow survived the year intact despite mortars striking as close as 150 metres away.

In November, Sooliman and his group were the first international rescue team to arrive in the Philippine town of Palompon, which had been devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.

“We were able to replace 1 200 square metres of roofing within five days; we re-established the [operating] theatre.”

Sooliman said the bulk of their life-saving projects remained in South Africa.


Lieutenant Jack Haskins

The team of Haskins and Belgian shepherd dog Udain sought out victims in an unusually high tally of disasters in 2013, from floods and plane crashes to Eskom’s tunnel collapse.

The head of Pietermaritzburg’s K9 Search and Rescue Unit, Haskins (57) and his 10-year-old partner seemed to be “everywhere”, often performing the saddest task: recovering bodies.

They worked at Howick Falls; combed the concrete slabs at the collapsed Tongaat Mall; recovered the drowned bodies of wildlife rangers in a lake near Richards Bay and provided for the dignified recovery of a dismembered pilot near Greytown.

In October — during a 36-hour shift after the collapse of a tunnel at Eskom’s Ingula water scheme — Haskins said: “My body doesn’t belong to me anymore”. The team recovered the bodies of six victims.

In that same month, other tasks included a search of the forests around Townbush Road in a hunt for human remains to link to a skull found there.

“Udain has been the star,” said Haskins. “You always go out hoping to rescue people alive, but the job is also about giving the community peace of mind in locating their loved ones,” he said. Contacted yesterday, Haskins and Udain were out combing the forests of Richmond, searching for a missing 63-year-old woman.


DJ Tira

When The Witness asked KwaZulu-Natal residents which local musician had rocked them the most in 2013, the same name kept coming up.

Even Tozi Mthethwa, head of communications for eThekwini municipality, had only one nomination for the entertainment top spot: “DJ Tira! He’s amazing. He has helped end this notion that you have to go to Joburg for great entertainment — now Joburg is coming to Durban!”

With core support among KwaZulu-Natal’s fast-growing black middle class, the award-winning DJ and promoter — real name Mthokozi Khathi — successfully exported his “no stress”, celebration version of kwaito-house to Africa and even Europe in 2013.

Brought up in rural Hlabisa, he launched to stardom with the DJ duo Durban’s Finest, swept the South African Music awards in 2010 in collaboration with kwaito giant Big Nuz, and founded the leading record label Afrotainment. In an interview with Live Mag early in 2013, Tira, whose recent string of hits include Umlilo and Won’t Let you Go — claimed that “[before], music was dead in Durban; we’ve brought it back”.

Estelle Sinkins, arts editor at The Witness, said Tira was one of “only a handful” of Durban artists who were reviving the local music scene — partly through a high work ethic”.


Lucas Sithole

KwaZulu-Natal’s Sithole stunned the world of wheelchair tennis — and inspired thousands — by winning the U.S. Open “quad” title last year.

Despite an early exit at the 2012 Paralympics in London, the 27-year-old from Newcastle stormed through his first grand slam attempt in New York in September to win the huge prize — coming from a set down to defeat world number-one David Wagner 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the final.

President Jacob Zuma declared his victory “an important achievement”.

And his coach, Holger Losch, said it had not only inspired the country’s 500 junior wheelchair players, but an entire generation of children.

Sithole lost both his legs and one arm when he fell beneath a train near Dannhauser in 1998 at age 13.

In an interview with The Witness’s sister paper, City Press, Sithole said, “It all started when I accepted myself after my accident, I didn’t stay indoors — I went to look for help, and my primary school was a big help.”

When the fiercely partisan New York crowd began baying “USA! USA!” for his American opponent in the final, Sithole thought to himself, “It’s fine, keep on shouting; I will just keep playing.”

“It was a victory for the disabled sons and daughters of the motherland,” he said.

“I knew that I was not representing myself but all the people living with disabilities on the African continent.”

Next, Sithole aims for a medal at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.

V Lucas sitholeparalympic tennis player.

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