It was Saturday afternoon and I was sitting and watching my beloved Tottenham Hotspur losing on the TV, when I received a message from one of my ex-colleagues who worked with me in 2008-2009 in our prison program in Cape Town. The message read “Mark you need to have a look at Bonga’s Facebook page as I think he is dead”, – I looked at his message in disbelief. It was only two weeks back that I had spoken to Bonga and we were due to meet and catch up. I looked on Facebook and the first post said “you were the best friend and brother a person could ask for, the best father and boyfriend Mandy could ever wish for, R.I.P”. I was shocked…….
Bonga was part of our prison Hope Academy program in 2008 and was released at the end of our program. He was a quiet young man but was someone who had a desire to learn from his mistakes and make a success of his life. From what we know he was shot dead in a bar in Cape Town. Bonga leaves behind a two-year-old son; a son who becomes another innocent victim of the mindless violence that is so common in the poorer communities in South Africa.
A few years back another young man we had worked with both in and out of prison, called Thulani was shot dead on his way back from football training. Friends of the victim had taken revenge and the vicious cycle of crime was once again in full swing. The father of Thulani phoned me to report the death on the Monday morning and thanked Ambassadors In Sport for all the help we had offered to Thulani and his family. Once again Thulani’s family were the innocent victims of unnecessary violent revenge.
As I regularly ask the young men we work with in prison – “Guys when does the violence end and who ultimately wins?” In the case of Bonga and Thulani no one has won and the people who committed the murder will now face long sentences in prison. As the young men in prison often say “Coach, crime doesn’t pay” – I wholeheartedly agree.
It is tragic to think of Bonga’s son, a young child who will now never know his father and grow up in a community where there is a lack of positive male role models. He will become another number in the ever-growing statistic of children growing up without a father figure. 90% of young men in prison either don’t have a father or a positive male role model in their lives.
However, I am of the opinion that there is always hope and it is pleasing to witness so many people and organizations trying to make a positive difference. On Saturday one of our prison graduates shared that his friend was shot dead in his community, his initial reaction was one of hatred and revenge, but after some thought and calming down he realized that this was not the answer and that he would let himself down, his coaches and his family. This one young man’s decision has stopped one cycle of violence and potentially saved many people from further heartache, pain and from him destroying his future. To hear that other ex-prison Hope Academy graduates had rallied around him at this time and been a support reconfirmed the importance of the high level of investment we place in these young men.
It is exciting to think that Hope Academy continues to influence many young people in Africa to make positive choices in life. Through our investment and influence we can stop the cycle of violence and crime by being intentional in our investment of one life at a time. I have learnt there are no quick fixes in working in the prisons and desiring to see true transformation in one of our player’s lives. This requires a long-term commitment to walk a journey with each young person we work with – change can take time and each life is precious. It is impossible to meet every need and it would be a mistake to even try, but we can make a difference in the lives of the young people we work with. We have seen the massive importance of investing in the few to reach the many, we can all make a difference and prevent the cycle of violence and crime one life at a time.
The Starfish Story
Original Story by: Loren Eisley
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed
a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the boy, he asked, What are you doing?
The youth replied, Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.
Son, the man said, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?
You cant make a difference!
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,
and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said
I made a difference for that one.
To read more about lives being impacted through Hope Academy view some of stories of hope on our website: http://www.aishopeacademy.org/youth-football-academy-africa/case-studies