Surf’s up in Cape Town’s poor­est set­tle­ments

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CARO­LINE HEN­SHAW

AUS­TRALIAN surfers have long been re­garded as cul­tural rebels, known for their care­free at­ti­tude and beach-bum cloth­ing.

But in South Africa, non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion Waves for Change is build­ing a new type of surf cul­ture that is bring­ing hope to some of Cape Town’s poor­est com­mu­ni­ties. The char­ity works with about 120 young­sters from two of the most no­to­ri­ous town­ships, Khayelit­sha and Masi­phumelele. Both started as black set­tle­ments built to house work­ers dur­ing the apartheid era, but since 1990 their pop­u­la­tions have bal­looned be­cause of mass im­mi­gra­tion.

Both set­tle­ments also are be­set by the myr­iad is­sues fac­ing South Africa’s poor com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing drugs, crime, al­co­hol abuse and gangs. Peo­ple in th­ese town­ships are among the poor­est in the coun­try, with about two- thirds out of work. Se­vere poverty has bred bru­tal crime; at least one per­son is mur­dered and two raped in Khayelit­sha ev­ery day, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal po­lice sta­tis­tics.

Surf­ing of­fers a chance for young peo­ple here to build new sup­port net­works away from the per­ils of the streets. Waves for Change teaches them about surf­ing and uses the sport as a metaphor for life in the town­ships so kids can learn to avoid dan­gers such as drugs and gangs in the same way they would ne­go­ti­ate rocks and cur­rents in the ocean.

Lessons are given by coaches — the first peo­ple from their town­ships to ride the waves — who also act as role mod­els to help en­sure the young surfers stay on track back in the com­mu­nity. Al­ready their lead­er­ship is start­ing to make an im­pact.

‘‘I used to be a drug ad­dict, my life was use­less,’’ says Amkela Ndiki, a 16-year-old from Khayelit­sha who has been strug­gling with ad­dic­tion to tik, a street drug sim­i­lar to crys­tal meth. ‘‘Now I know I will achieve my goals. Now I’m a surfer. I’ll never change my mind. Surf­ing helps me to solve my home prob­lems and makes me for­get about the pain I’ve been through.’’

There are few black surfers in South Africa. De­spite the coun­try’s wealth of stun­ning coast­lines, wa­ter­sports lack rep­re­sen­ta­tion from its ma­jor eth­nic group. That’s partly down to poor gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment in beach fa­cil­i­ties or to pro­mote th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties in schools. My sur­vey of 35 peo­ple on the streets of Khayelit­sha re­vealed that 64 per cent had never heard of surf­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Waves for Change coach Ncedo Ma­nens­gela, it’s also be­cause most peo­ple from the town­ships con­sider surf­ing to be a ‘‘white’’ sport and not rel­e­vant to their lives. ‘‘A lot of African peo­ple aren’t ex­posed to wa­ter sports. I think if we can pro­mote the sport in our neigh­bour­hood it will make a big dif­fer­ence,’’ he tells me.

But that surf­ing is so un­known, and seen as dan­ger­ous, also makes it par­tic­u­larly ap­peal­ing to town­ship kids. Most are rebels seek­ing a cause, try­ing to ex­tri­cate them­selves from vi­o­lent gang cul­ture and abu­sive homes.

The adrenalin rush from rid­ing a wave is phys­i­cally ad­dic­tive and so keeps them com­ing back to the beach, where Waves for Change can in­stil its mes­sage.

Ac­cord­ing to Bon­gani Ndlovu, who co-founded the char­ity with Bri­tish so­cial en­tre­pre­neur Tim Conibear, Waves for Change is also play­ing a vi­tal role in build­ing a new African surf cul­ture. Ndlovu says, ‘‘Th­ese are strong com­mu­ni­ties full of bright young peo­ple who will shape the fu­ture of our coun­try. This is why surf­ing needs the town­ships — to turn the sport from an elit­ist pas­time of one so­cial group into some­thing in­grained in South African cul­ture.’’


Waves for Change is in­tro­duc­ing surf cul­ture to poor com­mu­ni­ties in South Africa

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