CAPE TOWN - Upon entrance to Ukhanyo Primary School I am met by a group of learners in their black-and-gold uniforms. Their shoes are shining. Top buttons are tied and shirts all tucked in neatly.
Courteously they direct me to the English lab where I am introduced to Grade 7 pupil Mihle Ndonga. Almost transfixed by Ndonga’s infectious smile, I manage to pay enough attention to notice how proud she is of her school during her explanation of the way the library system is utilised, while other younger children are busy cutting out colourful shapes as part of their art lesson.
For many this might seem trivial. A scene played out at every other suburban school. But the reality is that we are in Masiphumelele, where the daily struggles are a way of life.
This very same enthusiasm and optimism crept into the heart of Vince van der Bijl, which convinced the former Natal and Middlesex fast bowler to lay the building blocks of what has now transformed into the MCC Masi 750 Sports Club that has seen the Lord’s-based MCC pledge £50 000 over three years to a project aimed at providing the school with resources to sustain a fully-fledged sports programme.
“Brad Bing (Sporting Chance director) asked me to come to a meeting with Masicorp (NGO) and Ukhanyo Primary School. They wanted to expand their sporting curriculum and needed a cricket coach,” Van der Bijl explains.
“I sat on a bench at the school and I saw this kid skipping across the netball court on the way to class. She was happy and joyful. So, I stuck around and just watched. I watched a PE lesson, how the staff interacted with children. And I worked out that this was a haven of safety and love within this community."
"From a young age I was taught that the meaning of one’s name is of great consequence. It therefore did not surprise me to discover that in Xhosa "Masiphumelele" means “let us succeed”.
The entire community, and in particular Ukhanyo Primary School with the great assistance of non-profit organisation Masicorp, have put their shoulders to the wheel in a bid to make a positive change in the area. It is a work ethic that MCC chief executive Derek Brewer noticed immediately on his whistle-stop visit to Masiphumelele.
“I have been quite humbled. Clearly, as in many places in the world, there are issues, and funding required. But what I’ve seen happening here is quite special. We have seen at the launch, the dancers, violinists, so it’s not just sport but the arts too. I’d like to think the MCC’s capital injection will encourage others to invest in this project,” Brewer said.
“It feels a like real community. I have been very impressed with the leadership at the primary school, headmaster Michael Tyhali and his motivated staff. That’s the thing, everyone is involved and assisting and in helping making people’s lives better. The MCC’s role is about spreading the game nationally and internationally. We believe the power of sport can make a real difference to people’s lives.”
Van der Bijl said: “I want to link communities. This is not just about cricket at Ukhanyo Primary School. This is about sport uplifting children. It is about developing a bond between the communities of Kommetjie, Noordhoek, Fish Hoek, Glencairn, Simon's Town with Ocean View and Masiphumelele.
“This is Phase 1. We need to match what (the) MCC has given us. Not big businesses. I want this to be a community project. We’re hoping to raise a million rand a year through donations.
“We want people to put hands in their pockets for R100 or R200 a month. Every game is an away game. That costs money. These things take the money. Everybody thinks it's pads and bats. No, this is what requires money.”