South African cycling star Willie Smit from Team Katusha Alpecin joins the Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy cyclists for a ride through the streets of Khayelitsha on Wednesday. Photo: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town’s Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy received brand-new racing bikes and kit donated by South African road cycling star Willie Smit on Wednesday.

Velokhaya is a not-for-profit organisation that uses cycling-based programmes to involve township youth in a positive, after-school activity.

The cycles and kit worth over R60 000 were donated by Smit on behalf of his sponsor German caffeine shampoo producer Alpecin.

Managing director Sipho Mona said the academy had been around for almost 15 years.

“Whether you’re from Constantia or Khayelitsha, kids love bicycles and we use it as a carrot to bring the kids here.

"The downside of this sport is the cost and Velokhaya bridges that gap and we are grateful for the donations we receive and partnering with Alpecin in addressing our biggest challenges,” he said.

Mona said the interest in the academy had grown with adults as well and while unearthing talent, it was about helping young people become better members of society.

Talent that has emerged from the academy include the first black SA cyclist to compete internationally as a permanent member of a European pro team, Luthando Kaka, Songezo Jim, who rides for pro teams in Johannesburg, and Nicholas Dlamini, who rides for professional cycling team Dimension Data.

Smit said that growing up in the at-risk community of Newlands, Johannesburg, he knew full well the dangers that faced Khayelitsha youth.

“My mother was an alcoholic and in abusive relations when I was aged seven.

"I see the work done here by Sipho and the team and the talent that is on show and I can see how this can grow, but the cyclist must remember that hard work and focus are crucial in any sport,” he said.

Alpecin representative Michael Seefeldt and his company have been involved in cycling for close to 40 years and hoped the donation would help the academy’s youth to pursue their passion.

Aspiring cyclist Tshebeletso Makongye, 14, said he joined Velokhaya two years ago and had never ridden a bike before joining.

He said he could relate to some parts of Smit’s story, as his mother was a single parent and he wanted to use his talent to one day represent his country and provide a better future for his family.