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  • Zeekoevlei Sailing CentreThe Zeekoevlei Sailing Centre was established in 2008 with a vision to teach sailing to previously disadvantaged youth between the ages of 10 and 17 years.
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Zeekoevlei Sailing Centre

The Zeekoevlei Sailing Centre was established in 2008 with a vision to teach sailing to previously disadvantaged youth between the ages of 10 and 17 years. From 2008 – 2011 the Old Mutual Foundation has contributed R950 000 towards this programme. During the 2010/2011 sailing season, 221 sailors were trained, 70 girls and 151 boys.

Nestled in the low-lying area of the Cape Flats are a series of interconnected wetlands, one of which is Zeekoevlei. These freshwater pans, or vleis, are the heart of a fragile ecosystem that supports a wide variety of unique Cape fauna and fynbos.

Ironically, surrounding this natural beauty are some of the poorest Cape communities such as Lavender Hill and Bishop Lavis. The drug of choice here is tik [crystal meth] and the area is plagued by unemployment, crime and drug-related gangster violence.

The pan of open water is rippled by a fresh breeze and bathed in golden afternoon sunlight. David Rae, co-founder of the Zeekoevlei Sailing Centre, has rustled up a group of young sailing students for our visit. “Four years ago when we first introduced local schoolkids to the water, most couldn’t swim,” he recalls. “We had to teach them to trust their buoyancy aids. Their first reaction when we took them out was simply to touch the water or look at the birds, they weren’t interested in sailing. That first year was just about the kids getting to know about water, now we’re starting to produce some champion sailors.”

While we’re busy filming, the boys are fooling around, laughing and pushing at each other like young bull elephants testing their strength. It’s evident that this is a good environment for them: fresh air, open water and a physically demanding sport with healthy male role models. Jean-Pierre Roberts (15) says, “Learning to sail changed my life, it took me away from the wrong things. When you’re out there on the water, all your problems are gone.”

Roscoe Cupido (24), a past student, is today a South African accredited sailing coach who’s represented South Africa in Italy and Sweden. He loves sailing most when the Cape southeaster is howling. “That’s when the adrenalin really gets going,” he grins. How does sailing affect local kids who join the programme? He thinks before answering me. “The guys become calmer, less aggressive. They become better for themselves.”

David Jacobs (16): “When you’re out there on the water, it feels like you’ve got no fears, you’re just in one world,” says David, who recently competed in the 2011 National Championship Regatta for category U16 RS Tera. He did so well that he will represent South Africa in Denmark this year. It’s the first time he’s flying in a plane and the first time he’s travelling overseas.

“When you’re out there on the water, it feels like you’ve got no fears, you’re just in one world.”

Mornay Harding (19) joined the sailing programme a few years ago. He has a scar on his forehead and tells me how sailing got him out of gangsterism. Many of his friends are still gangsters and sometimes they try to get Mornay to rejoin them, but mostly they encourage him to pursue his sport.

Shannon Cupido (15) says he used to be a real couch potato. “But after the first time I came here I couldn’t stop coming back. I just wanted to be here every day. The Sailing Centre’s made a huge impact on my life.” He recently won the 2011 Western Province Championships for the U16 category RS Tera, but couldn’t take part in the National Championships due to illness.

Fayaad Shaik (17): “Sailing is an indescribable feeling, between having control and having no control. It builds character. Over the years I’ve had some hard times, but whenever I start sailing it takes that all away. It reminds me of what I have in life.”