Helping others make a Fresh start
by Bongiwe Gambu
He describes himself as "a young person on a mission to change the world, one person at a time, and I'm not doing badly so far". This might sound arrogant, but given the chance to know DJ Fresh, you might change your mind.
On first meeting Thato Sikwane, aka DJ Fresh of Yfm, I didn't think I'd last ten minutes - he's huge and a bit intimidating. But he introduced himself as Thato Sikwane, not DJ Fresh, and asked how I was. I knew then that I wouldn't be interviewing a massive ego.
As soon as he drove into our visitors' parking bay, I thought to myself, "now here's a man with taste and style". Unlike many young and successful people, he doesn't drive a BMW, but a Rover 75. Certain BMW models, like the latest 3-series, say: "Newly acquired wealth, I need to make a statement." Cars like Rover, Audi or Mercedes say: "I'm comfortable in my wealth". And, unlike many of his peers, he has touched the lives of other young people through education opportunities.
This young man is a father, a DJ, a radio presenter and most importantly, an entrepreneur. His eight-year-old daughter, Reneilwe, lives in Botswana, but she regularly visits and gets to see her dad on his mission to change the world.
In 2000, DJ Fresh invited Yfm to join him in "adopting" 100 matriculants, to give them extra lessons and revision from Star schools every Saturday until the exams were over. He also arranged career talks with people from different sectors. This has become an annual event and at the end of each year, two top achievers qualify for the DJ Fresh Scholarship. The two top achievers for last year are both studying towards degrees at Wits university and Vaal Technikon.
"The aim of the scholarship is to give matriculants from the so-called formerly disadvantaged communities an opportunity to explore all facets of life, while at the same time helping to break the stereotype that lawyers and doctors are the epitome of success," says DJ Fresh.
He believes that not many young people have been interested in media studies and have focused on office administration and business management courses. The media was seen as an industry for the elite and therefore unattainable.
To help realise this dream, two years ago - through DJ Fresh's enthusiasm and RAU with Boston Media House - four scholarships were awarded to students from various townships to study at Boston Media House. Plans are under way to turn this scholarship into a full and permanent education fund and eventually offer postgraduate scholarships.
Why, DJ Fresh asked himself, should a child miss out on an opportunity to help the African media grow simply because the tuition fees couldn't be paid?
In 2001 the DJ Fresh Annual Scholarship - an extension of the already existing scholarship - in partnership with other institutions, was created. Rosebank College awarded five scholarships, Monash University 10 scholarships and Boston Media House five scholarships.
This year the scholarship has attracted more than 500 candidates, of whom 50 will receive bursaries .
Zakhele Mabanga, a 22-year-old information technology student at Monash University, said: "I couldn't study any further after writing matric in 1999 because of financial constrains. I heard about the scholarship on DJ Fresh's afternoon show last year and I decided to give it a shot."
Mabanga had initially planned to study for a BComm degree but was advised to study IT instead. He said the bursary has changed his life and opened up opportunities. He plans to return to Dawn Park, on the East Rand, where he grew up and help others in need.
Jan Houge, the director of student services at Monash University South Africa said the institution had wanted to establish a bursary programme, but did not know how to go about it as they were still new in South Africa in January last year.
"We met DJ Fresh through one of our staff members and he presented his business plan. It has been great working with him because through his bursary programmes we have managed to give bursaries to students who did not have the finances to study further," said Houge.
For 18-year-old Tshepo Seabelo, a travel and tourism graduate from Rosebank College, life has changed for the better. She said the opportunities that lie in the business industry are lucrative and she now wants to study hospitality to complement travel and tourism. She now works for Big Dawg Productions, a company owned by DJ Fresh.
Fatima Ebrahim, the principal of Rosebank College said: "DJ Fresh helped us achieve our objective of giving back to the community. Along with Yfm, we were able to raise awareness about our college. It has been a fantastic working relationship."
Rosebank College awarded five bursaries last year and this year the number doubled.
At the rate DJ Fresh is going, he is in tune with his quest to change the world, "one person at at time".