-By Erol Zeki
Beyond The River is a beautiful, true-life South African film that opened in cinemas a few weeks ago. Inspired by the story of two men from vastly different backgrounds – Piers Cruikshanks and Siseko Ntondini – and their determination to win a gold medal at the one of the contintents toughest canoe races – The Dusi Canoe Marathon.
I had the privilege of attending an event where these two men spoke.
This is not a review of the movie (which is well worth a watch) and I promise there are no spoilers here either. Nor is it a book review of ‘Confluence: Beyond the River’, telling Piers’ and Siseko’s story which inspired the script.
Rather, this is a look at what is possible. It is a look at some of the amazing things going on in our country. People from all walks of life are coming together, overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges and creating a better future for all South Africans. Just ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
The Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club (SCARC) – where Siseko Ntondini is a member, was founded almost a decade ago by a few passionate paddlers who wanted to give back to the community and introduce disadvantaged youth to watersports.
SCARC has since been adopted as the “Development Arm” of Dabulamzi Canoe Club (Emmarentia), the largest club in the country. Siseko is just one example of the great success of SCARC. Of the top 20 finishers at the 2017 Dusi, 13 were from the Soweto based club. The Dusi is tough event and these guys are placing this way on pure merit thanks to the grass roots development model. Canoeing in South Africa is truly and forever transformed. But that is just its sporting success – the development and life opportunities that the programme is creating for its members, are far greater.
I have long been a proponent that participation in sport has a powerful impact on the holistic development of a young person: You are part of something, you need to learn to win and lose, you need to learn how to work as a team. It takes dedication and commitment without the guarantee of success. The participation, the contest and the comradery is the reward and the life lessons are invaluable.
Canoeing in this case is just the anchor, the thing that unites everyone around a single passion. The volunteers at SCARC, together with the support of members of the parent club from Emmarentia have created an environment and a platform from which these youths can develop life skills, get educated, live better lives and have careers. Siseko is still a competitive paddler. He is also employed by Adreach (one of the major sponsors of the club) and is a 3rd year law student. An impressive and full plate by anyone’s standards.
South Africa cannot move forward economically, culturally, or emotionally if we do not tackle inequality and poverty head-on. And to do this we need to uplift, educate and empower people with the tools and opportunities to live quality and fulfilling lives and to break the cycle of poverty as they pass the baton on to the next generation.
Our challenges as a country are both numerous and complex, and a programme such as SCARC may be a drop in the ocean, but what a great blueprint for socio economic transformation.
Read here to learn more about the SCARC.
Read here To learn more about the movie and the book.