The Mandela Campaign & riding joBerg2c for a purpose
28 March 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking and today we’re going to focus on mountain biking, but the spin-offs of mountain biking and the people who make a real difference through mountain biking. Here I was riding down the vein, the artery of mountain biking, the animal that is mountain biking in Johannesburg, the Spruit. You bump into all manner of people and I bumped into an old friend from the Old Mutual joBerg2c as it happens, Rob Coutts who is looking very fit and sharp. Rob, you are an Old Mutual joBerg2c rider, are you riding it this year?
Rob Coutts: Absolutely, it’s my 7th year.
GDK: That’s why we’re both here, I think there’s a bit of panic training going on! This Spruit sort of does it for us, in a way. What you’ve gone on to do around joBerg2c and we’ll come to that in a moment. Riding down the Spruit here is another feeling, you feel Johannesburg, you sense it, you absorb it here.
RC: Absolutely, you do. The Spruit is probably one of the most incredible parklands/areas, not only in Johannesburg, but probably around the world. Where you’ve got, my example is I ride single track, from home to the top of the Spruit, Albert’s Farm, all the way back home again, 70km, through Johannesburg. Where else can you do that in the world? It’s just not possible, it’s absolutely incredible and a great training ground for the joBerg2c as well because it’s got such varied terrain.
Giving back on the Old Mutual joBerg2c
GDK: Let’s move onto what you’ve gone on to do around joBerg2c and the building of libraries which is key to participatory good and to the work that’s being done through Mutual Federal, through Old Mutual. Just give us an outline as to how you got involved in it and why?
RC: Well, the bottom line really is under the Mandela Campaign, our mandate is children’s literacy. In other words, Mr. Mandela basically said, there’s no ways we’ll ever help every child in the world. But we have a responsibility to allow each child to help themselves.
You start off with education and the basis of education is reading, literacy. If you can’t read, you can’t learn. We looked at the various campaigns around the world on how we raise money. One of the big gaps in our campaign funding scenarios was sports, adventure. Just people who get out there and do things to enjoy the country.
The Participate for Good Campaign was created to allow us to basically create what we call Mandela Charity Champions. Where people get involved in sports and outdoor activities that allow them to say, okay, I want to do this with a bit of a purpose. If you look at the Old Mutual’s by-line, ‘Doing something with a purpose’, it’s perfect for us.
Then of course you take a model like joBerg2c which is very community oriented, where the money goes back into the community. It’s just an ideal match between us and them. Because their spirit, their ethos is so aligned to Mandela Day and the fact that you just need to do a little bit to give back.
If you look at what’s happened in places like Reitz, Harrismith, all these places where these schools get involved in helping the joBerg2c race. It is probably their biggest fundraising event of the entire year. This is how this thing gives back.
I also think that’s probably why Old Mutual’s involved, because they’re very involved in the community of South Africa and the building of a nation. For us, getting riders who are like-minded, who enjoy getting involved in giving back while they’re enjoying their own experience is something we want to do.
If you look at the Old Mutual joBerg2c, which was our inaugural campaign in Participate for Good, by the way, they helped us kick-start the whole thing four years ago. It’s been a journey of significance. Nine libraries installed already on joBerg2c route, four more going in this year alone. We’re talking about nearly, I think 8 652 kids a day, every single day, who get to experience the reading clubs and the libraries and participate in the libraries.
We’ve had the UN do an evaluation of how effective we are. The Department of Education is blown away by the fact that we managed to improve literacy ratios in the lower grades by nearly 20% in the last three years. It just keeps on getting better and better. It’s probably the best campaign we’ve ever, ever done under the Mandela banner.
How you can play your part
GDK: You’re making a huge difference. Let’s just take it from the mountain bikers and the people involved in the race to creating the libraries, how does that work?
RC: We get individuals who enter the race, they then register on the Participate for Good website, becoming a Mandela Charity Champion. They set their own targets and based on their target, they use the platform which is fully automated, into all the social media.
Things like email, Facebook and Twitter and they start canvassing amongst friends, family, corporates, for donations. If they reach certain targets, they get certain benefits. The partnership we’ve got with joBerg2c means that some people, they get free kit, they get free bike services. If you really go all out, you get free entry the next year.
There really are reasons to actually do it, but it’s a process where each individual then manages to do their own thing. I must tell you, the most incredible thing has been meeting these individuals. I mean we’ve got people like Danny Vogel who comes from Germany, who got involved in the first year, Year One.
He walked up to me at the registration and gave me a brown paper bag with R50 000 cash in it! Walking around Johannesburg! I couldn’t believe it! He put in his first library. The second year he went hell for leather and raised more money for another library.
This year he’s done the most incredible thing. He’s managed to get a physical container donated to him in Germany, in his village. He got every school kid in the village involved, the Mayor, they physically built an entire school library by hand, in Germany. Just from photographs of what we had done in South Africa.
He then got a shipping company to put it on a ship to South Africa, it just arrived in Durban now. We’re busy prepping it for somewhere in the Sani Pass region, in mission school there. He built this entire library from scratch and he said something to me which was quite phenomenal.
When you travel Africa, it touches your soul
I asked him why and he said, you know, you travel the world and you create phenomenal memories, but when you travel Africa, it touches your soul. This is exactly what it’s about, building a nation. Africa has something that no other continent has and the way that people react to you, the warmness, the responsiveness. You see these kids when they get access to these books, just incredible stories, phenomenal stories.
GDK: And joBerg2c’s journey ethos, point to point, you’re riding through some of the most incredible parts of the country. Some of the poorest parts of the country as well, but beautiful and you do get a sense of the soul, don’t you?
RC: You do, I mean there’s no two ways about it. If you got stuck in one of those rural, remote parts of South Africa and you were lost, and you needed water. I promise you, if they had one litre left of water in their house, they would give it to you.
It’s just that way. I’ve experienced that first-hand over many years. The people of South Africa, the happiness with being able to just be part of a country like this, it’s hard to explain to anyone. You have to experience it, you have to do something like the joBerg2c to understand it. It’s an experience.
GDK: It says something for mountain bikers as well in a way.
RC: Yes. It’s not only the mountain bikers themselves, they also get their companies involved. Of course when a company starts to donate to us, we give them the necessary Code 500 or Code 700 type certificates for enterprise development or socio-economic development. Which helps with their BEE rating, which is all part of the process.
But certainly we find that in most cases, they just want to do something. They feel like they need to just give back and it’s that sense of being able to give back and then we get to ride this route which is incredible. They actually ride straight past some of the libraries, so they physically get to see what they did and that’s very rewarding. You can’t buy that kind of reward for yourself, to see that you’ve actually done some good.
How the mountain bike finds you
GDK: What got you into mountain biking?
RC: Funnily enough, I’ve always been involved in sports. I sailed and windsurfed a lot and I needed to keep fit while these coastal guys were in the sea all the time sailing, so I got into biking. The moment I got onto my mountain bike and started experiencing the remote places and the views, I mean there’s no comparison, absolutely no comparison.
The ability to get on a bike and ride from Johannesburg to Scottburgh, across the Drakensberg areas, and go places where cars have never been. This, once again, it’s an experience, it’s a journey of a lifetime. In fact I do the joBerg2c as a holiday now with my entire family. They come along, they support me and I’m hoping in the next year or two my sons will be riding with me.
I’m getting them trained up, but they love the whole process, the journey, the communities, the spirit. Eight hundred people travelling this country is just incredible and you see it even in the racing snakes. You see the guys crash upfront, the group stops to help them. T
he prize money is as big as any of the biggest races in the world, but it’s a different kind of feeling, mountain biking. There’s a different kind of community there, different kind of ethos, different kinds of ‘gees’ we call it in South Africa.
GDK: We do Rob. Rob Coutts, you’re making a real difference and it’s fantastic to see and I think we’ll see incredible things, not just in the libraries, but in the future of South Africa’s youth. Thanks very much for what you’re doing and thanks for the chat alongside the Spruit here as it flows down. Rich, green colour at this time of year, plenty of rain around.
It runs from up Albert’s Farm, almost in Melville, all the way down to Leeukop almost. It is a veritable hive of activity on any given weekend day, or public holiday. It’s a great place to spend time on your mountain bike. Anywhere is a great place to spend time on your biking bike, so get on your mountain bikes and get riding. This has been another wonderful edition, I hope you’ve enjoyed it, thanks for downloading our edition of Old Mutual Live, Mountain Biking, thanks and cheers.