Uplifting story of man who helped empower the building of the first gym in Clarens

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Thabiso Mokebe's search for a gym led him to start one in his community.
Thabiso Mokebe's search for a gym led him to start one in his community.
Lameez Omarjee
  • As a rugby player at school, Thabiso Mokebe couldn't find a gym in his community where he could do training, so he and a friend simply started their own.
  • The community gym, Fitness Plus Health Club, had its early beginnings in a shack and it's the only gym in Clarens.
  • Mokebe has equipped the gym with second-hand equipment, and also relied on donations from renewable energy project, Kruisvallei Hydro.
  • GOOD NEWS DAY IS BACK! News24 celebrates the people restoring pride in our country. Read their stories here

As a rugby player at school, Thabiso Mokebe couldn't find a gym in his community where he could do training, so he and a friend simply started their own.

Mokebe's gym, Fitness Plus Health Club, is the only one of its kind in Clarens, Free State. It is frequented by individuals from Kgubetswana, the community where he is from and also residents from the tourism town.

Currently located at a building on premises which also serve as a creche in the mornings, Mokebe said that his gym had its beginnings in 2007, in a shack.

"We did not start here… we started at a shack. No lights, no electricity, nothing. That is where it started," he shared. Mokebe said that he and his friend slowly equipped the gym with second-hand weights, which they had bought over the years.

More and more people started joining in, and that's when they approached the creche to use one of the buildings in the afternoons for the gym.

Fitness Plus Health Club makes use of a building a
Fitness Plus Health Club makes use of a building at a creche.
News24 Lameez Omarjee

"We then tried to buy more equipment because we saw that most of the youth wanted to come and join us for the gym," he said.

What made a huge difference for Fitness Plus was the donation of gym equipment by Kruisvallei Hydro. This is a 4MW small-hydroelectric plant – which is part of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP).

REIPPPP projects have socio-economic development requirements for the communities in which they operate.

Following a needs assessment of the community, it was found that health was one of the issues that needed to be addressed. The only other means people can stay fit is through a weekly Park Run, which happens on Saturdays, while there is also an open field in the middle of the community where youth can play soccer. 

Through the help of community liaison officer Ntsebe Mofokeng, Kruisvallei Hydro was made aware of Mokebe, who was on a drive to improve health in the community of Kgubetswana.

"This young man [Mokebe] would receive donated equipment, mostly from the neighbouring community," Tebogo Mohlahlana, economic development & community manager for Kruisvallei Hydro, told News24. Mohlahlana said Kruisvallei Hydro wanted to "plug into" this existing initiative and support the gym with equipment.

"They made a huge impact. Before, we didn't have all these machines, like the treadmill," Mokebe said. "To find that you can come to a gym and find everything you need, in terms of helping you health-wise or maybe losing weight and gaining some muscles… you get everything here," he added.

Kruisvallei Hydro donated gym equipment to Fitness
Kruisvallei Hydro donated gym equipment to Fitness Plus as part of its social impact responsibilities.
News24 Lameez Omarjee

Mokebe said that since becoming fully equipped, many more people – both young and old – have been coming to the gym.

Mokebe noticed that initially people were not very confident about their bodies when they started attending. But the gym has proven to be a "big boost" to build their confidence and improve their health.

His gym now also includes aerobics, which women often attend in the evenings after work. He sometimes leaves the gym as late as 21:30 to accommodate members.

Mokebe also wakes up really early at around 04.30 to open the gym and work out with a few members who prefer to do their exercise before work.

He has even put together diet programmes for some members and has completed a nutrition course online, which has helped with this.

He is doing all this on a voluntary basis. Whatever monthly fees members pay (students pay R70 and working adults pay R150) go toward rent for the space and the electricity.

Mokebe's actual job is in the hospitality industry – he works as a restaurant supervisor in one of the hotels in Clarens.

He says he's running the gym out of his pure passion for fitness. "The main reason that made me start this is because I loved gym from a very young age," said Mokebe, with a smile on his face.

His hope is to secure land to build a bigger space for the gym. He would also like the gym to become an enterprise one day. "Honestly, it is a dream," he said, his face lighting up once more.

*Red Rocket is the developer, EPC contractor, operations contractor, asset manager, and shareholder for Kruisvallei Hydro.

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