AMANDLA* to the Safe-Hubs – A good news story
(* Power) – With this country being just in the centre of the worldwide Covid threat again, we are glad that our South African correspondent Sandi Baker has turned up with something different. –The editors.
Life in South Africa can be harsh, and this year seems to have been particularly difficult for some, which is why I have been on the lookout for a good news story. And this is one such story.
Going quietly under the radar, Safe-Hubs have started springing up around South Africa. ‘Well,’ you may say, ‘that’s wonderful, but what are Safe-Hubs?’ A Safe-Hub is a place where children from disadvantaged communities come to play football twice a week or visit the Youth Café to learn skills in the digital lab. Their parents are notified when their child arrives at the Safe-Hub and when they leave. Young role models from the community, such as PlayMakers, support the children and referee the games. The activities take place in the afternoon. The children learn life skills programmes and the concepts of fair play. They also learn digital skills such as media literacy and coding, amongst others. Each Safe-Hub has a WI-FI-enabled Youth Café, workshops on writing CVs, financial literacy, and other programmes. There are also psychosocial support services for those who need counselling. The concept is so integrated into the community that the football pitches are also used for league players (ages 17 to 35) on Friday nights.
This ingeniously simple concept has evolved since its inception in Khayelitsha to where it is today, with over 150 people employed directly in South Africa across seven sites in some of the poorest areas in South Africa, including Tembisa, Alexandra and Diepsloot. Through its coaching development programme, Safe-Hubs has trained over 320 FIFA accredited B, C and D licensed coaches. The effect of the hubs is felt throughout the community by creating jobs and increasing employment opportunities for airtime vendors, hawkers and other community support services.
So how did this concept evolve to become a solution-based ecosystem? Basically, by involving community members and listening to their needs. And it all started when Florian Zech, a German national, volunteered at an orphanage in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. The experience of working in the orphanage, the broken communities and the impact of poverty on young people made Florian realise how privileged he was, ‘being a white male and having grown up in southern Bavaria’. He made friends with youth his own age and listened to their ideas to help their younger siblings avoid being trapped in the cycle of poverty. One of their main areas of concern was the lack of access to safe spaces where children could play safely. From those early discussions 19 years ago, the idea of safe spaces morphed into the Safe-Hub concept: a place where the children could go and attend sports programmes, such as football, learn and get support. And most importantly, be safe and be free to be children.
Since then and through ongoing collaboration, Florian and a growing team of local and international people, including Managing Director, Jakob Schlichtig, have grown the concept into an international organisation. Together, they created AMANDLA, a social enterprise-based NGO, to oversee the growth of the Safe-Hubs.
AMANDLA sees an additional 25 to 30 sites in South Africa within the next five years and a global reach including Philadelphia in the USA and Wedding in Berlin (showing that disadvantaged communities aren’t all based in developing countries), India, Brazil and the Ivory Coast. This forecast is quite a challenge, given that it costs between R10 million (€528,000) and R35 million (€2 million) to set up a Safe-Hub.
The amount of work in setting up Safe-Hubs should not be underestimated. Although the model looks quite simple, the background negotiations and consultations require skills, dedication and patience while the need grows daily, especially given the impact of Covid-19 on the communities. AMANDLA is very much team-based and community-driven, and it evolves and incorporates innovative partnerships across business, government, NGOs and communities. The platform drives community ownership and ensures quality services and standards.
There is a saying that success breeds success, and while funding is a challenge, partners are part of the success story. Partners such as the Development Bank of South Africa have been instrumental in providing funding for the digital labs and liaison with governmental departments and have also co-initiated and funded the development of the Precinct approach around the Safe-Hubs. Another partner, Vumatel, a fibre internet provider, ensures download speeds of 1000Mbps, while HCL offers digital programmes. Adidas provides the sports kit, and local government helps with the venue and local administration. Several partner not-for-profit companies, such as Harambee and Rlabs, focus on different aspects of youth development (digital education, job creation, etc.) The partners work in cohesion and complement each other: each bringing a distinct advantage and willingness to solve problems.
The community commitment to the initiative and its success is so strong that none of the Safe-Hubs were vandalised during the Covid-19 lockdowns when many other structures such as schools, railway tracks and basic infrastructure were destroyed. Of course, the impact on the communities is huge. Lucas Radebe, former Bafana Bafana and Leeds player and current Safe-Hub board member, maintains that he would have been a better footballer at an earlier age had there been a Safe-Hub when he was growing up. The local football associations are hoping the Safe-Hubs will develop future Bafana Bafana and Banyana Banyana players.
Perhaps, Annie’s (not her real name) real-life Safe-Hub success story sums up the potential for change. Living in Khayelitsha near Cape Town and being pregnant at 15 and a mother at 16 is not the best start to life, especially in a country with a youth unemployment rate of 44%. But if you are lucky like Annie and you have a Safe-Hub in your area then, there’s a good chance you will not become part of the unemployment statistics. In fact, 14 years later, you, too, may have a successful career, your own accommodation, a loving spouse and adorable children.
Being a teenage mother, Annie was one of the first people to go to a Safe-Hub. It was there that she received the necessary psychosocial support. Through training, she became a group leader, an accredited PlayMaker, a qualified coach, an admin manager, and is now a programme manager in Diepsloot, Johannesburg, managing 13 people. Annie’s progression through the ranks reflects the growth of the Safe-Hubs.
Florian may have been relatively young and naïve when he came to South Africa, but he and his team are changing lives for the better. So, it is no wonder that Florian was one of the youngest recipients of the Medal of the Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany and was recognised as one of the world’s leading Social Entrepreneurs when he was awarded the Ashoka Fellowship Award.
And, as this year comes to an end, don’t mind me while I not-so-quietly celebrate Safe-Hubs success and wish them well for the future. AMANDLA!
Sandra Baker with us here.