Gary Kirsten Foundation Changing Lives

28 Jun 2019

A team of cricketers representing the Gary Kirsten Foundation has just returned from a successful tour of the UK.

Whilst their results were impressive – two wins and a tie from four games, including playing teams consisting of older children – the story behind the tour is, arguably, more important.

The 13 young cricketers – aged between 10 and 13 - were from the Khayelitsha township just outside Cape Town.

Around five years ago, Kirsten visited the township to assess sporting facilities at some of the schools in the region, which he found to be non-existent. 

The former Proteas opener met the then-principal of Chris Hani High School, Madoda Mahlutshana, and immediately saw an opportunity to do something that could make a difference. 

Without any starting capital, the foundation committed to building two concrete cricket nets and appointed a full-time coach to start a cricket facility. 

Five years later, and with sponsors and investors taking more notice all the time, the Gary Kirsten Foundation now operates from five schools in Khayelitsha and employs seven coaches. 

Kirsten is hands-on, conducting clinics with the coaches as often as possible, whenever he is in Cape Town. 

Chris Hani is the hub, and the long-term vision is to turn the facility into something of a school of excellence where those in the township have a place to hone their skills and a chance to grow into quality players without having to leave the community. 

The foundation will soon begin work on a R7 million project that will see a full artificial playing surface laid at Chris Hani, while an indoor centre will also be constructed. 

"We've become stakeholders in the community, which is remarkable. They trust us now and they know that we're here for them. It's their project, not ours," said Kirsten.

None of the 13 children on tour had ever been in an aeroplane before, while Cape Town International Airport almost came to a standstill when they departed for the UK as families, teachers and friends from Khayelitsha arrived to send them off. 

"We had a dream five months ago. You'll get a lot of school kids going on overseas tours because mom and dad can fork out R45 000/R50 000 for a tour, but you'll never see a township team going on an international tour," Kirsten said.

Kirsten's passion lies in the unfortunate truth that a black kid from the township will almost certainly have to land a scholarship at a former Model C school if he is to make a career out of cricket.

"What we're basically saying is that building sporting excellence in the townships is non-existent, and I've got a fundamental issue with that," he said. "If we're saying we need to scout our talent out of the townships and send them to St Stithians or Hilton or Bishops to produce Proteas players, then I've got an issue with that. If you're saying that you can't make it in the townships, that doesn't feel right. Have we actually moved forward as a country? Our focus as a foundation is the schools, because school sport for me works."

Kirsten hopes that, through the foundation, Chris Hani will be turned into a cricketing school that can take on the very best in South Africa.