Sonwabile’s journey of discovery

2017-12-07 06:01
Sonwabile DwanguFOTO: lunga adam

Sonwabile DwanguFOTO: lunga adam

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In an era where most choose career paths for all the wrong reasons and long faces are the order of the day in township streets on weekday mornings, Sonwabile Dwangu is a refreshing exception to the rule.

It is not by fluke or accident that the course of life has him perched at his current occupation. He could not be any happier, considering all he had to go through in search of fulfilment and his day in the sun. For one, he tells me as we sit for this interview last Sunday morning, growing up in Willowvale in the Eastern Cape, he took a particular fondness to his playmates, and that set him apart from the rest. So much so that he did not take part in the stick fights that came to characterise childhood in the rural areas; that bandaging the heads of those who came out the worst for the wear gave him the most satisfaction.

After finishing matric, he caught the Public Relations bug. He was admitted to Technikon Natal in Durban, but he “pulled out of the deal” due to the internecine battles between the IFP and ANC members in the early 90s, before the dawn of democracy. He then did a teaching course, but dropped out in the second year. It was not his cup of tea.

“Luckily, I discovered that there was an institution called Academy of Learning in Queenstown, a private college. I did a three-year course there in Public Relations and obtained my diploma. Truly speaking, it gave me what I wanted – knowing how to communicate, how to network, how to conduct community events and manage them,” he adds.

In 1999, his life took an interesting turn. He came across a newspaper article about an organisation based in Paarl and it hit a nerve. Thus, armed with his diploma, an unemployed Sonwabile boarded a bus to Cape Town.

He tells me, “The article was about young people starting a community project and I said to myself, ‘This is where I belong!’ I took a risk, my brother. The bus dropped me off at the Huguenot Tunnel. They said, ‘Mfondini, naku ePaarl.’ In that article, no address was given. I stayed there for a period of five days, not eating nor having a bath. I was trying to figure out where to go from there. I had this piece of paper. My English was not good and I couldn’t speak Afrikaans,” he recalls.

Noticing his presence in the precinct, someone walked up to him and asked him why he was there. Sonwabile showed the person the newspaper clipping and the rest is history. He says that is where his potential was unlocked. When he joined the organisation, they were in awe of his journey. The organisation was busy with youth development programmes, seemingly his niche, and he felt right at home. As he puts it, “I met the right people with the right vision and we connected from the word go.”

He worked there as a volunteer for three years and was equipped with life skills in the process. In total, he spent five years there, before moving on to work for False Bay College in Khayelitsha as a student development adviser, providing life skills and career guidance to students.

A resident of Lower Crossroads for the past seven years, he was, until recently, working for an organisation called Beautiful Gate as a freelancer in training, education and development. This is where he launched a resource centre.

“Its mandate was to make sure that young people have access to information in the form of the internet, newspapers and magazines. If learners want to apply at UCT, they don’t have to go there to pick up an application form. At least let’s bring those resources closer to them. Again, that was an opportunity for me to do youth and community development and facilitate life skills programmes. I think Beautiful Gate added more value in my personality and in the person that I wanted to become. It was absolutely clear to me that this is my space. I’ve become well-known to the community based on my work,” says the father of two.

He says he understands full well the feeling of hopelessness brought about by a lack of access to information.

“Through this project, we are saying to people let’s do this together, let’s share knowledge and let’s link you to opportunities. I can proudly say that at least that goal has been achieved. When I joined Beautiful Gate, I knew that at some point I want to share my knowledge, time and experience for the entire community, not necessarily at Beautiful Gate. The aim was to spread my wings,” Sonwabile shares.

Spread his wings he did. Currently, he is busy doing free job readiness workshops in libraries.

He explains, “I’ve been working with NGOs and I’ve identified that all these NGOs are led by older women and older men, and then there’s this young generation coming up and starting their own projects. But the right hand and the left hand aren’t speaking to each other. There is a gap in terms of knowledge sharing and experience. We are now trying to bring them together through conversation. As an old person, tell us, if you’re running an organisation, there is no money, the passion goes out and people boycott, how do you keep on going? We had the last one on 18 November and it was well received. These are local heroes and heroines. These are people you won’t see on TV, but are doing the real work on the ground. They have never been thanked, recognised and appreciated and we’re using that space to say we appreciate the work you’ve done, but before you leave Planet Earth, can we just tap into your wisdom?”

He says these conversations, aptly titled Umrhabuliswano, are very close to his heart. In addition, he plans to hold a life skills camp for the youth in March next year, to raise awareness on gender-based violence and crime, among others. He says the young have the fire, but “let the fire burn positively”.

The 44-year-old concludes, “It is out of these projects that I see myself active in Lower Crossroads and the surrounding areas. I’ve got time, passion, knowledge and contacts. I don’t see these projects not being realised and I see myself as the right man to do them. I feel happy. I feel fulfilled. The best is yet to come. I am not done yet.”


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