Fighting spirit

From grassroots to gold: The positive after effects of the first Youth Development Programme

The first sports community outreach programme for children from previously disadvantaged backgrounds ever to be held on the West Coast in the discipline of boxing took place at the Navy base SAS Saldanha in 9 December 1998, with the positive after effects still lingering to this day…

Lined up and ready: participants being taught punching techniques, top defence force trainer, Jan Louwrens guiding the aspirant youngsters

This community outreach program served firstly, to positively influencing children; providing role models, exposing them to a healthy activity and thereby turning them away from a life of crime. Secondly, to contribute towards community building – seen as regional aspect of nation building – with the bringing together of major aspects of the community: youth, government, local businesses which supported the event and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). In the process strengthening the SANDF’s relationship with the local community.

Sport as a unifier
In an often-divided world, sport is a unique and important connective tissue that binds people together, both within and across societies. Nelson Mandela recognized the unique power of sport to heal and bring together a divided South Africa. At a time of great tension over his appointment as the country’s first black president, Mandela appeared on the field after the Springboks won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, wearing the team’s cap and traditional green and gold jersey. The stadium was filled largely with white South Africans, who were initially stunned but soon started chanting “Nelson! Nelson!” in a moment that will be remembered forever as one of the ultimate example of sport’s power to heal division. 

Fighting Spirit. A group of the participants showing their fighting spirit. Macneal flanked by Claudio (to his right) and former World Champion Gary Murray (to his right)

Mandela would then go on to say, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else can. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair.” (Nelson Mandela, Laureus World Sports Awards Ceremony 2000)

Positive effect of outreach programme lingers still today
A shining example of how sport can awaken hope is Macneal Samuels, who was a youthful 11-year-old at the time when he attended this sports youth development program. 

The organiser of the sports outreach, Claudio Chiste – who conceptualised and organised the programme whilst Chairman of the Military Academy Boxing Club – recently returned to Saldanha as the Senior Instructor of the Warrior Training Centre to train the South African Navy in Hand-To-Hand Combat and forging mental toughness. During this visit – his first since the outreach programme almost 20 years earlier – he rather fortuitously managed to establish contact with one of the participants of that memorable occasion, Macneal Samuels, the then 11 year child who is today a 29 year old man. Asked how that experience changed his life – he has not shared this story with many – this is his story, which could inspire others to make something of themselves.

Flashback. The photo which appeared in leading newspapers covering the youth development program. Macneal (encircled in blue), with organiser Claudio Chiste in the background.

How did the clinic have a positive impact on you?
After the sports development program I applied myself at a number of worthwhile activities with a level of success, making the Boland chess team, earning my provincial colours, where I was fortunate to travel all around country. Thereafter making it in the Boland regional volleyball team, as well as playing rugby for the first team of Saldanha, where we recently won the golden trophy following our victory over our fierce rivals, Vredenberg. 

Whilst being active in sports at a competitive level, I was also able to manage my time by working part time to fund my studies. I completed my NQF level in tool making and machining and my N3 in mechanical drawing, maths & science. In my spare time, when I am not playing competitive rugby, working or studying, I am a youth leader in my local church.

I plan to start my N4 later this year and will also be applying to go on the next programme to qualify as a mechatronics technician, specialising in electrical, mechanical, and computer technologies. It is a 6 year programme, so quite a commitment but that it is my goal.

Today as a young man: Macneal with the ball playing for Saldanha.

What do you remember of ‘that’ day… attending the outreach program as a young 11 year old?
I remember I was so excited to attend this sports day in the navy base of SAS SALDANHA. After learning punching techniques and self-defence, we had to spar one round. I remember being knocked down…then being  encouraged by the coaching staff “You can do it”… I forced myself to get back on my feet to finish the round and successfully complete the programme, being awarded my certificate. That taught me a valuable lesson about life. 

What was the major lasting impression for you of that day?
This generation of youth needs hope, it is our job to make sure they don’t perish or waste their talent. There is extreme poverty in the region, but that does not necessarily need to be one’s destiny. That sports programme planted the seed that we can all be destined for greatness. 

This created a lasting legacy in two ways; not only did it inspire those that attended, it also laid the seeds for follow on outreach programmes – supported by subsequent OCs of the Military Academy – inspiring even more young lives. A case in point being Pte Gregory “The Hitman” Gans, where at the age of only 13 he attended one of the follow-on community outreach programmes.

This photo was taken after PTE Gregory Gans triumphed against his international opponent from Azerbaijan.

With dedication and hard work he won the SA Kickboxing Championships, being selected for the national team in an international bilateral competition against Mauritius (which he won with a spectacular knock-out). He subsequently represented South Africa in numerous international events, including two World Kickboxing Championships in 2012 and 2014.

Outreach programmes such as these are in line with the Department of Sports and Recreation’s “National Sport and Recreation Plan” which highlights the need to develop and invest in previously disadvantaged communities. The mission statement of the department is “To transform the delivery of sport and recreation by ensuring equitable access and excellence at all levels of participation and to harness the socio-economic contributions that can create a better life for all South Africans.”

Development is a bottom up approach, meaning we must invest in sports facilities and the development of talent at grassroots level (amongst the young), particularly in underprivileged communities which do not readily have access to suitable sport facilities. This equips young people with the means, so they are not disadvantaged because of the communities they are born in.