Hollywood actor and social activist Forest Whitaker, centre, and mayor Dan Plato, left, with participants in the Youth Peacemaker Network Programme in Athlone, started by the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative. Photo: Armand Hough / African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town – Humanitarian, social activist and acclaimed Hollywood actor Forest Whitaker said his motivation to start a youth development initiative in Athlone was sparked by his experiences with a disabled family member who became addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Whitaker said he felt a responsibility to prevent the same thing from happening to the “new generation”.

He hosted a press conference in Bridgetown, Athlone, to give an update on progress made at the recently launched Youth Peacemaker Network Programme on the Cape Flats, run by the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI).

The WPDI also has operations in Sudan, Uganda, Mexico and the US.

Forty-six young people have enrolled in the Athlone programme, which gives participants training in a variety of fields and promotes peace, reconciliation and social development.

“This organisation is a network that hopefully will reach across the globe to connect everyone to build peace,” Whitaker said. 

“I was here in the Flats; I got the chance to see some of the difficulties, and I listened. By me being here to understand the needs, it was a perfect place for me to begin with.

“It is important for us to have an intuitive feeling of what is going on and what can be done. This is why we work with local youth. 

"We train them as mediators, entrepreneurs and teachers because we want them to become versatile leaders who can spark change through concrete action, be it workshops on human rights or small businesses that will create jobs for other young people.”

Whitaker previously visited the country to meet Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He shot a movie called Zulu in the city, when he witnessed first-hand the challenges the youth on the Cape Flats face.

Programme participant Bathobele Nontsele said: “I had no hope that one day I would change the kind of person I am. In the future I see myself training the upcoming generation about peace, and in ICT. 

"The programmes offered in this organisation are ICT skills and business entrepreneurial skills and conflict resolution.”

Mayor Dan Plato welcomed the starting of the programme.

Cape Times