Masi boys break new grounds in lifesaving

Xolani Ndyolo, Jeanne Topliss, Azukiwe Kaboka, Sphumezp Plaatjie and in front is Apish Tshetsha.

History has been made in Fish Hoek. For the first time, this summer, the beaches will be manned by qualified lifeguards from Masiphumelele.

Waves4Change is making waves in the lifesaving communities from Fish Hoek and beyond as the successful youth empowerment programme is soon to be duplicated in Port Elizabeth and East London.

Apish Tshetsha is in charge of finding suitable candidates from the Masiphumelele community for the initiative.

He shares how the programme became established and what it means to the community, while three Masiphumelele residents who have qualified, share what it means to them, and Jeanne Topliss from the Fish Hoek Lifesaving Club gives her input.

So far, Waves4Change has seen 18 lifesavers qualify. It has only been operational for a year, and is a programme that was initially set up as a surf therapy system, and which grew from there. The lifeguards are between the ages of 16 and 21. Some have been employed by the City of Cape Town for the holidays, some for other beaches such as Muizenberg, and some have been permanently employed.

Mr Tshetsha said he met Tim Conibear in June 2015, the two became friends and Mr Conibear helped him learn to surf. Through this, Mr Conibear saw first-hand the kind of deprivation in Masiphumelele, on so many levels. They decided to do what they could, to change things.

“We want to take kids off the streets of Masi and give them a sense of belonging. But not for nothing: they must earn it, they must commit and do the training, tackle the life skills it needs, and see it through,” he said.

Mr Tshetsha and Mr Conibear spoke to local schools, approached social workers in the schools and set up a referral programme which would direct children in need of surf therapy to Waves4Change.

The programme includes life skills necessary for children who live in townships and the unique hardships they face.

“Sometimes, they just need to be taught how to calm themselves, how to find a safe space, what to do in an emergency. We start with the basics and grow from there,” Mr Tshetsha said.

He says he approached Fish Hoek Lifesavers Club and that they and their idea were warmly welcomed.

Ms Topliss said that the real heroes are the youngsters who commit themselves so wholeheartedly to learning the various skills involved in the lifesaving programme.

Swimming is the biggest challenge as children in Masiphumelele don’t have a swimming pool and most do not grow up with water safety knowledge, she said.

“But these boys did their training even in winter, when the pool donated for our use at Fish Hoek Primary School was icy cold. And it didn’t deter them. Nor did my yelling: which I thought was encouragement and initially they thought was … well mean,” she laughed.

All the boys, Ms Topliss and Mr Tshetsha expressed real gratitude for the donation of time at the pool.

“Before, I had no idea about water sports, about swimming and water skiing. I thought,” (pauses, laughing) “that it was just for white people,” said Azukiwe Kaboka. “I was introduced by a friend, but he quit. I didn’t. The training was hard, but I pushed through. I committed. This is a big step for the rest of my life. It has taught me how to be vigilant, and I am now giving service to the people in this whole community. I have learned communication skills and how to handle a crowd. And I can give CPR. It has been so interesting to learn and I want to learn more,” he said.

He said his parents weren’t sure about this at first but when they saw how much he was learning and enjoying it, they supported him.

“Now I am employed: and for their support, with my first pay, I am going to take them out.”

Sphumezo Plaatjie said he felt it was a huge honour to be a lifeguard.

“It means a lot to me. The training wasn’t easy but I understand now that to learn this is a benefit to me and to my community. We are the first Masi lifeguards, we are heroes to our community, we have made history and I am so proud of that. To have this knowledge to be able to help people, that is the most important thing to me,” he said.

Xolani Ndyolo said that to be of service to his community and to be a good example of the Masiphumelele community is hugely important to him. “There were some very difficult obstacles to overcome but we did it. I never knew anything about CPR but now we can help save people’s lives. Before I become involved I didn’t even know that lifeguards got paid. I thought they just sat and watched people all day. Now I know so much more and I am learning all the time and it’s all to help my whole community, in Masi and all our neighbours.”

Ocean View residents will see the programme roll out in their area shortly.

Ms Topliss said the lifesaving club is thrilled to have competent passionate and qualified lifeguards on duty and she loves the integration of communities on the beach.