Pupils in war of wits

TV show ‘Ge­nius’ is in its fi­nal stages and only a few teams have made it. Youth Day de­light at Laven­der Hill Sad past gives birth to in­sight­ful theatre


THOU­SANDS of kids from all over the coun­try en­ter, but only one team will come out on top.

That might sound like some­thing an an­nouncer at a teenage fight club might say, but here it ap­plies to the con­tes­tants of Nick­elodeon’s na­tional quiz show, Ge­nius.

Hosted by ac­tress/co­me­dian Lihle Msi­mang, and model/ ac­tor Thapelo Hlophe, Ge­nius AS­PIR­ING rap­per Khaseef Sach­nary, 18, was de­lighted to see smil­ing Laven­der Hill youths so­cialise with one an­other and network with their peers from Steen­berg and Re­treat on Youth Day.

This hap­pened on June 16, when the City’s Re­cre­ation and Parks Depart­ment gath­ered young­sters from the three communities and pit­ted them against one an­other in an ar­ray of sports chal­lenges.

For Sach­nary and other young­sters in the area, this was a rare event but one they’d like to see the City host more of­ten. “The at­mos­phere was very pleas­ant. I’ve never seen Laven­der Hill young­sters so happy and chatty,” said Sach­nary, who per­formed his song, The Dopest, af­ter play­ing in a soccer match at the event.

“The event helped take my mind off things like the taxi and gang vi­o­lence,” he said.

Kay­din Stu­art, 17, of Laven­der Hill,who played soccer and table tennis at the event, said the City should bring sim­i­lar events to the com­mu­nity on week­ends.

“That’s the only way they can save us right now. The feel- is a quiz show that pits high school pupils from across the coun­try in an in­tense bat­tle of wits. It cov­ers sub­jects such as physics, al­ge­bra, cal­cu­lus and life sciences (bi­ol­ogy).

Thou­sands of kids en­tered, but only 16 teams qual­i­fied for the fi­nal stages. The show be­gan in mid-Fe­bru­ary and is near­ing its end.

The Spon­ta­neous Com­bus­tion team from Curro Dur­banville In­de­pen­dent School has ing I had that day is noth­ing like what I feel ev­ery day. It wasn’t like any­thing I feel in the streets.

“Laven­der Hill is re­ally dan­ger­ous, you can’t even go to the shop on your own,” Kay­din said.

JP Smith, Mayco mem­ber for safety, se­cu­rity and so­cial ser­vices, said the City had aimed to make Youth Day one to be cher­ished by young peo­ple from Laven­der Hill, Re­treat and Steen­berg, with a range of ac­tiv­i­ties, from swim­ming to karate.

“The fes­tiv­i­ties were set to take place in an open space in Laven­der Hill, but were moved to the Re­treat Pool be­cause of re­cent shoot­ings and gang vi­o­lence.

It is a real­ity that of­ten chil­dren in gang-af­flicted ar­eas are robbed of en­joy­ing sport and re­cre­ation, due to threat of vi­o­lence in their neigh­bour­hood,” he said.

“As far as pos­si­ble, the depart­ment works with communities and lo­cal po­lice and law en­force­ment to pro­vide safe spaces for fun and learn­ing, as well as being flex­i­ble in how and where recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties are de­liv­ered to en­sure the safety of par­tic­i­pants.” made it to the semi-fi­nals.

The team con­sists of three Grade 11 pupils – Dan­telle Jou­bert, 17, Ralph McDougall, 16, and Joanie Thom, 16.

Dan­telle said they never ex­pected to make it so far into the com­pe­ti­tion.

“I was the mo­ti­vated one in the team and even though I kept telling them we would make it, I didn’t re­ally be­lieve we would make it this far.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ralph, the IT BE­GAN as a few drama classes at No­ord­ge­sig High School in Joburg, where Tsha­balira Le­bak­eng would di­rect only the most die-hard theatre kids in the school’s pas­sion projects.

Five years later, Le­bak­eng’s group of ded­i­cated per­form­ers has blos­somed into a theatre group that not only helps pro­tect at-risk youth in the area, but has also pro­duced a show that will be head­ing down to the Gra­ham­stown Na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val next month.

The Ngizwe (“hear me”) Youth Theatre team sees its young stars de­velop their own sto­ries into work­ing productions, but the one that will be per­formed in Gra­ham­stown this year has been a deeply per­sonal af­fair for Le­bak­eng.

While the troupe has added its own flavour and sto­ries to The Lit­tle One, the piece was in­spired mainly by Le­bak­eng’s child­hood struggle to sur­vive in the streets of Dur­ban for two years, af­ter he was aban­doned by his mother and her new boyfriend.

“My mother chose him over jour­ney has been tough.

“It’s al­ways in­tim­i­dat­ing go­ing against big schools. Some of the ques­tions are very dif­fi­cult and I think we get very lucky at times.”

Joanie said being on TV was very dif­fer­ent to an­swer­ing ques­tions in an exam.

“You have to think on your feet and lis­ten re­ally care­fully. It’s harder to remain fo­cused,” she said.

Joanie said a teacher from me. I re­mem­ber he told me that I would ‘have to hus­tle’. I didn’t know what that meant, but I couldn’t go back home.

“In the first month in the streets, you’re try­ing to learn the con­cept of the streets.

“You can’t go to any rub­bish bin, there are rules.”

De­spite the oc­ca­sional turf war over rub­bish bins, Le­bak­eng re­mem­bers how the groups of home­less chil­dren were tightly knit.

They would help each other stay clean, wash­ing to­gether their school had travelled with them. Ralph said it was stress­ful being on a TV show: “The lights get re­ally hot and it takes quite a long time to set ev­ery­thing up, but you learn to come out of your shell and it lets you ap­pre­ci­ate how much ef­fort goes into big TV shows.”

Joanie said: “I am so close. I am just go­ing to give it my all.”

Ge­nius airs on Nick­Toons, DStv channel 308, Fridays at 2.45pm CAT. and pool­ing their re­sources so they would look “pre­sentable”.

“Be­cause we still had hope. Maybe one day I can find some­one who will come and say: ‘let me adopt you’.

“They don’t want dirty mos­qui­toes. I wanted to be a neat and tidy boy, a clean boy, so a Good Sa­mar­i­tan would adopt me.”

It was only af­ter two years and on the brink of star­va­tion that he re­turned to his mother, who then palmed him off on a fam­ily friend.

“She had ne­go­ti­ated with an­other do­mes­tic worker from a ru­ral area to take me.”

Des­per­ately un­happy with his “new, hor­ri­ble fam­ily”, he begged his mother for help and she agreed to send him to his ma­ter­nal fam­ily in the Eastern Cape, where his out­look fi­nally im­proved.

It was only years later, as a young adult, that Le­bak­eng met his bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther and found what he calls his “true home”.

“My big­gest achieve­ment is work­ing with these kids.”

Emma Delius, Ngizwe’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, and her mother, Har­riet Perl­man, a writer and pro­ducer, has been Le­bak­eng’s men­tor for years, and served as co-writer and pro­ducer.

As The Lit­tle Ones is aimed at a young au­di­ence, Ngizwe is giv­ing away tick­ets to child-fo­cused NGOs, or­gan­i­sa­tions and schools that would like their pupils to at­tend the per­for­mances on July 2 and 3 at the Re­hearsal Room in Gra­ham­stown.

For any in­ter­ested groups, please con­tact em­madelius@ ngizwe.co.za or visit www.face­book.com/ngizwey­ouththe­atre and ngizwe.co.za.


Lead ac­tress Them­be­lihle Hadebe and mem­bers of the Ngizwe (‘hear me’) Youth Theatre group re­hearse for The Lit­tle One at the No­ord­ge­sig Com­mu­nity Hall.

Joanie Thom, Dan­telle Jou­bert and Ralph McDougall of Curro Dur­banville In­de­pen­dent School have reached the semi­fi­nals of Ge­nius.

About 250 young peo­ple from mostly Laven­der Hill, Re­treat and Steen­berg took part in Youth Day events.

Tsha­balira Le­bak­eng, founder of the Ngizwe Youth Theatre with cre­ative di­rec­tor Emma Delius.

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