• Sunday, July 21, 2024


Gary Kirsten eyes transforming one of the biggest slums through cricket

Khayelitsha township in Cape Town is better known for being one of the biggest slums on the planet

FILE PHOTO: Former South African opening batsman Gary Kirsten. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images for The Hundred)

By: Pramod Thomas

NOTORIOUS for drugs and crime and afflicted by large-scale poverty, the Khayelitsha township in Cape Town in South Africa is better known for being one of the biggest slums on the planet. But World Cup-winning coach Gary Kirsten is attempting to change the image for good through cricket.

The idea struck him when he returned to his home after guiding India to a World Cup title in 2011.

“When I came back from India, I wanted to have a look at cricket in our poorest neighbourhoods in Cape Town,” Kirsten recalled.

He ended up touring Khayelitsha, situated 30km south-east of Cape Town and considered one of the most unsafe areas where a majority of the inhabitants still live in shacks.

“I took a tour of the area with local school authorities and found that no cricket was happening which disappointed me a lot. I thought of this centre and we started with two concrete nets in two schools and then included three more schools,” Kirsten said.

What ultimately shaped up was the Catch Trust Foundation, originally called the Gary Kirsten Foundation, in 2014 and its plan was to ensure that kids don’t take the path of drugs and violence.

Gary Kirsten eyes transforming one of the biggest slums through cricket
FILE PHOTO: A general view of informal settlements and other parts of Khayelitsha, home to millions of people in mostly impoverished circumstances, with the back of Table Mountain visible, about 35km from the centre of Cape Town on February 22, 2022. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH/AFP via Getty Images)

Much like his cricketing career, which was built on discipline and was defined by a voracious appetite for runs, Kirsten’s foundation has also been gradually making a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of kids.

“It is helping me to avoid street things like smoking weed and helping me keep my body and lungs fit. I see myself as a future South African player,” said 15-year-old Lukholo Malong, a trainee spinner whose parents work as domestic helps.

‘Talent is universal, opportunity is not’, reads the guiding principle of the foundation with the stated goal being to create sporting ecosystems in low-income areas.

The foundation has been operating at five schools in Khayelitsha and claims to have worked with over 1000 kids in 5-19 age bracket. A strong women’s team has also emerged and some girls of them have managed to reach the provincial representation level.

“I take motivation from Virat Kohli as he inspires me to work hard and keep going. I want to play for South Africa one day,” said Malong, spelling out his dreams for a better life on the back of a sporting career.

“Kohli is my favourite player as he keeps motivating us and we learn not to give up, push hard and keep going, we will be something one day. I have seen him on the field in Cape Town but will meet him one day.”

Khayelitsha was established in 1983 when the Apartheid regime forcefully relocated people from the growing black population around the city.

Currently, it has a population of over 2.4 million and most of the inhabitants are black Africans. Many residents have to struggle for access to potable water.

“The intention was to create sports opportunities for these young kids. If a couple of them come through and show potential, that means we are making a new contribution to South Africa cricket which is what it is all about,” said Kirsten.

Malong and his friend Tylan, like hundreds of other kids at the centre run by the Foundation, are trying to find a new life for themselves and their families.

“My mom is a big support as she loves cricket. She doesn’t know much about it but she loves it and is very happy to see me here,” Malong said.

Nine-year-old Tylan’s parents are local bakers. He is a wicketkeeper-batter, who wants to emulate the likes of Rishabh Pant and Jos Butler.

“People here in our locality are very violent so we came here to play cricket . Since 2019, we are here playing cricket,” he said

“Rishabh Pant and Jos Butler are my favourite because they can hit the ball well. I want to play like them.”

Babalwa Zothe, a female coach who started as a volunteer with the Foundation in 2017, said access to cricket training has been a life-changer for the kids in the area.

“Most of the kids come from underprivileged communities in Khayelitsha . They get scholarships and opportunities which are helping them a lot. We are encouraging them to play cricket so they can stay away from stuff like drugs and crime,” she said.

The Foundation took 13 young players and two coaches from Khayelitsha to the World Cup in the UK in 2019.

It was like a dream realised for the kids who have seen their contemporaries ruining their future due to drug addiction. Recently an MCC team also visited the centre.

“We are coaching in three primary schools and two high schools. (We) primarily take kids from the schools who are interested. We allow other kids also to come and play with us so it’s for everyone in the community,” Zothe said.

She said that kids are also learning a lot about other aspects of life. Last year, a workshop for girls was organised where they learnt about substance abuse, and sexual health.

“Creation of quality sporting and life skills programmes to keep kids off the streets and developing their talents on and off the field is the motto behind the centre. Many renowned players like Makhaya Ntini have visited and encouraged them to do well,” said the coach.

“A key aspect of Kirsten’s cricketing persona was his determination whenever he came out to bat and it is evident in the way he is running his foundation as well. I always believed that there are four pillars to create opportunities for talented players, they are good equipment, good facilities, good coaching and matches to play. We have created this in Khayelitsha,” he said proudly.


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