Soweto orphans sow seeds of hope

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 March, 2011, 12:00am

For most people heading to the Sevens from overseas, getting here means simply buying a sevens ticket, an air ticket and getting on a plane.

For teenagers Lucky Zwane and Sandile Mkhize it meant a legal battle through the South African High Court, the Department of Justice, a high court order and, in a last-ditch effort, two brilliant legal minds working on the case for 24-hours straight.

The pair has no criminal past. In fact, they have no documented past of any description. As orphans in Soweto, there was no proper paperwork to obtain passports. 'We had to do everything to make it happen. We could not contemplate the thought of them plummeting to the depths of despair if they could not go after they had been on a high anticipating it,' says Dali Sizwe, project director of The Soweto Schools Rugby Group, who have headed to Hong Kong for the journey of a lifetime this week.

In stark contrast to the 'match box' government houses where they live an impoverished existence, the youngsters from Soweto last week found themselves in Hong Kong, meeting with heroes on the pitch. The trip is a ground-breaking exchange visit as part of two Laureus support-based projects. Laureus is a sports based charity operating in more than 80 countries. Its ambassadors are sporting legends from a diverse array of sports.

Former Springbok captain Morne du Plessis who is leading the group for Laureus in Hong Kong last week, said 'the phrase 'no journey is made in vain' applies here, and every moment of this visit is life-changing for these youngsters'.

'These 10 kids aged from 16 to 18 have had an incredible few days. Most of them have no criminal past; their only crime was to be born into poverty. They played in the Hong Kong Youth Championships. They stretched the comfort zone and went boxing with Operation Breakthrough. We cannot quantify what this journey will have meant for them. The benefits will happen over the next decades.'

The group also played on the Hong Kong Tens pitch, joining forces with Operation Breakthrough to form a team. Breakthrough is a charity founded by the Hong Kong Police in 1996 for underprivileged children. Many have met with the law and it is through Breakthrough's efforts that they are given new direction.

Emmanuel Mthokozisi Madonda, who was once a Soweto child living rough and is now working for Laureus in London, completing an MBA, said: 'Organisations like Breakthrough and Laureus help nudge kids in the right direction. Youth is so powerful. If we can create a critical mass, we can inspire. Through this visit by Laureus these children are accessing something bigger than themselves. On the Tens pitch, the Soweto kids and the Hong Kong Breakthrough kids had a common language. Sport is like music, it transcends borders, it translates to all languages, and it works on many levels.'

The Laureus project exchange visit also introduced the Soweto youth to the Springbok team. 'That was a great moment, as they can see that their heroes are just normal people like them, and they can see that they can be heroes, too,' du Plessis said. The Soweto youth rugby squad participated in a training clinic on Thursday with David Campese, Christian Cullen, Justin Marshall and George Gregan.

As team manager of the World Cup-winning Springboks on home soil in 1995, du Plessis knows the power of synergy and motivation. '[Nelson] Mandela understood how to make the chemistry work between people and make things happen. Since then, we have seen a new rainbow Africa we aspired to back then come into fruition.'

The Bok legend was keen to point out that although he has come from a rugby past, as an ambassador for Laureus, he is more interested in turning lives around than blooding young rugby players. 'I feel that if one of these children thinks back in 20 years and remembers this week as the turning point in their lives, then we've succeeded. I leave the business of finding rugby stars to the powers that be. I want to see these youngsters maximise their potential, to become professionals, to go on to be doctors, lawyers, to be advocates for the new South Africa.'

'Mandela knew his timing was right when we won that Rugby World Cup in 1995. He planted the thought, we reacted to it. In many respects what we are trying to do with Africa's youth via Laureus is the same thing. It's all about planting the seeds of change and helping them grow.'