Pretoria - Three former inmates are on a mission to ensure that things they never had while growing up are available to the youth in their areas.
In this regard, they have partnered with farmers, technology savvy people and healthcare providers to build the biggest sports and skills development centre in Soshanguve.
Themba Mohlala, Peter Saasa and Gift Mthombeni joined forces with various organisations to turn 89 hectares of farming land into sporting facilities that should keep young people’s minds off crime.
The three said they had ended up in prison and received skills and education that made them realise their lives would have turned out better had they grown up in townships that had sufficient youth empowerment centres.
They are working with farmer Senanya Nare and IT specialist Tiisetso Mosana, who have contributed knowledge that turned what used to be a vegetable, fruit and poultry farm into a multi-purpose community centre.
It has been named M17 Sports, Arts and Culture and Skills Development Academy.
Mohlala said the centre would give township youth the opportunity to grow up away from shebeens.
He said: “In the entire Soshanguve this is basically the last piece of land of this nature that is still open, and we are using it to give children sporting facilities that could have saved us from jail had we had them growing up.
“A bit of this land is already invaded by squatters, but it ends right there. We are not going to allow children to grow up in a community that does not have sports grounds.”
The group, without funding, has already started creating sporting grounds for various sport codes like soccer, tennis, netball, cricket, swimming and basketball. They use the money generated by the farmers to pay for the costs of this dream.
Mosana said: “We want to also build an Olympic-size swimming pool and two training pools. We have already started measurements.
“We want to have four netball, basketball and tennis courts, as well as four soccer grounds and a big swimming pool.
“This comes at a very big cost, and so far we have been doing it with the money we make from poultry. Things are so costly it’s got to the point where we’ve reached deep in our own pockets to get the job done.”
The centre is also home to a community-orientated substance use programme run and administered by social workers, nurses and students from the University of Pretoria. They deal in healing young people struggling with addiction.
Mohala said: “This programme deals with a problem that already exists. However, with this centre we are saying we should not wait until addiction gets out of hand. These sporting facilities will be the prevention instead of the cure.
“We have already spent roughly R1.2 million, but by next year in June we want to have something to point to and say this is what we’ve done.
“This work could cost about R30m to finish, but we will get there no matter how long it takes.”
The centre has at least 35 volunteers who’ve dedicated their lives to working in various divisions.