Tak­ing boys to the moun­tains (to heal)

Biénne Huisman

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Lin­dela Mjenx­ane grew up herd­ing his grand­mother’s goats and roam­ing the hills of the East­ern Cape. It was here, near the small town of Mount Frere between Kok­stad and Mthatha, that his love for na­ture was born. Mjenx­ane was raised by his ma­ter­nal grand­mother be­cause his mother lived in Joburg. His fa­ther, a pian­ist who moved in the same cir­cles as the late Brenda Fassie, didn’t fea­ture in his life. To­day, some­what iron­i­cally, Mjenx­ane (32) has be­come some­thing of a pa­tri­arch to hun­dreds of young­sters liv­ing in town­ships around Cape Town.

“I tend to be hard on them. I am a fa­ther fig­ure who’s not easy to please. I be­lieve I have to push th­ese chil­dren to nur­ture their tal­ent and po­ten­tial,” he says from be­hind his lap­top (he is always work­ing).

Mjenx­ane is the founder of the Be­yond Ex­pec­ta­tion En­vi­ron­men­tal Project (Beep), which helps pupils in town­ships over­come the chal­lenges of their phys­i­cal and so­cial sur­round­ings by con­nect­ing with na­ture. For ex­am­ple, Beep or­gan­ises a two-day trek up Ta­ble Moun­tain, es­tab­lishes food gar­dens at schools and pro­vides ed­u­ca­tion about wa­ter con­ser­va­tion and the evils of lit­ter­ing.

Mjenx­ane is un­mar­ried and doesn’t have chil­dren of his own yet. “I want to learn from the mis­takes of my par­ents, but I do want to have a solid fam­ily one day,” he says.

He doesn’t hold any grudges against his fa­ther who “didn’t give a damn”. He cites his grand­mother as his men­tor and in­spi­ra­tion, the per­son who in­stilled in him the strong fam­ily val­ues he prizes to­day.

Mjenx­ane moved from the ru­ral live­stock-rich par­adise of his for­ma­tive years to the cor­ru­gated con­fines of Cape Town’s Philippi with his mother when he was 12.

“We moved into a shack. It was tough, very clut­tered and cramped com­pared with what I’d been used to.”

He at­tended Si­mon’s Town High School, get­ting up at 4am to catch a train to Cape Town, then the South­ern Line through Woodstock, Ron­de­bosch and Muizen­berg, and along the coast to Si­mon’s Town. It was a tough time.

“My mum could just af­ford my train ticket. When I called my dad, he put the phone down in my ear.”

But Mjenx­ane ma­tric­u­lated with ac­count­ing, busi­ness stud­ies, geog­ra­phy, mar­itime stud­ies, English and isiXhosa; and with it, the prospect of a bright future.

He vis­ited the Kirsten­bosch Na­tional Botan­i­cal Gar­den in the foothills of Ta­ble Moun­tain for the first time in 2000. He had passed the gar­den so of­ten on the train.

“I was in awe of the sur­round­ings; it was pro­found. I mean, from the town­ships we see the moun­tain, but it’s hard to be­lieve there are so many walk­ways up there,” he says.

SA Na­tional Parks noted his pas­sion and of­fered him a job as a tour guide, which he did for four years. “I jumped for joy, it was such a great op­por­tu­nity.”

But it wasn’t enough be­cause he longed to marry his pas­sion for the en­vi­ron­ment with a so­cial con­science, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to the young peo­ple of Cape Town’s shack lands.

He started Beep, a non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, in 2005. Among the ac­co­lades, he won the Western Cape pre­mier’s Youth Award in 2006, was named the pro­vin­cial com­mu­nity builder of the year (Western Cape) in 2007 and in that year, won the Iny­ath­elo Award for youth in phi­lan­thropy.

Beep works with 10 schools, host­ing two work­shops ev­ery day. It em­ploys five peo­ple, three of whom rose through the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s ranks. The moun­tain treks pass through places such as Or­ange For­est, Disa Gorge and Kas­teelpoort – places of great nat­u­ral beauty most of the par­tic­i­pants have never been ex­posed to. There is also “a place of heal­ing” – a gath­er­ing of rocks where Mjenx­ane asks the pupils to lie down, close their eyes and lis­ten to na­ture. “It’s not easy. The kids come up with very se­ri­ous stuff. They have sin­gle par­ents, were raped or mo­lested ... My or­gan­i­sa­tion uses na­ture as a tool to ad­dress so­cial is­sues.”

He opens his lap­top to show pic­tures of broadly grin­ning chil­dren un­der trees and next to water­falls. “The en­vi­ron­ment and its con­ser­va­tion – and its po­ten­tial to heal – is some­thing very close to my heart.”

One can­not help but think his heart is in a beau­ti­ful place. PER­CENT 6 4 2 0 -2 -4 -6 -8 -10

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PHOTO: HER­MAN VERWEY

PA­TRI­ARCH

Lin­dela Mjenx­ane uses na­ture to help the youth

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