Finding South Africa’s next Olympic swimming champion in Kayamandi

12 July 2016

Kayamandi, on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, might not have a swimming pool but it hasn’t stopped resident Songo Fipaza from following his dreams of coaching kids to use the sport for upliftment. He wants to build the township a swimming pool to develop aspiring swimmers. Perhaps one day they could become Olympic gold winners.

Fipaza and his non-profit organisation Songo.info is currently raising funds to build a community swimming pool and help improve the lives of the Kayamandi youth.

Local sporting hero

Fipaza is renowned in his hometown for following his dreams and helping others do the same.

While he was an avid soccer and rugby player in his youth, he was inspired by the successes of South African athletes at the Olympics, particularly, Elana Meyer who won a silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It was the same year South Africa returned to the games after almost 30 years. “I asked myself why I couldn’t do that. So I decided to do it,” Fipaza told News24 recently.

He joined a local running club and made road running his passion, competing in over 20 marathons since. He began cycling and mountain biking in 2004, competing in the Cape Epic and other local cycling events. The love of cycling inspired him to begin the Songo.com NGO in 2008 with the support of Swiss mountain bike champion Christoph Sauser. The organisation raised over R200 000 to build a cycling track and recreational centre on vacant piece of land in Kayamandi.

Sport centre for the youth

The centre is not only a sports club, but also a place where township youth can go to after school. It has a computer centre for doing homework and a ‘chill-out’ area where kids can safely hang out with friends. About 80 kids attend the centre, riding bikes and staying off the streets.

“Children in the township can do and excel in any sport they learn, given the opportunity,” Fipaza told News24, “it’s important for them to see that there’s more to life than what they see in Kayamandi. Seeing the rest of the world gives them perspective.”

Fipaza cites the example of Kayamandi’s own up-and-coming sporting hero, Azukile Simayile. The 23-year-old upcoming duathlon competitor is quickly attracting attention around the world in the sport that combines road running and cycling. Simayile has finished in the top 10 of the sport’s World Championship three years running.

Getting kids in the pool

His next challenge is to get the kids swimming. Fipaza himself only learnt to swim in 2015 so that he could compete in the Iron Man triathlon. “[Most of the kids here] can’t swim because they don’t have access to a facility where they can safely learn how to stay above water. We need to change that and develop this sport so that we can see a township kid representing SA at the Olympics, not just those who attended suburban schools or had a pool at home.”

He hopes that the pool can be used to teach everyone in the community, including adults and pensioners, how to swim. He would like to get the whole town interested in sports in water and on land.

Fipaza raised funds together with the South African Sports Trust. He crowd- funded his run in the London Marathon in April this year, raising R60 000 for the cause. While the R15-million price-tag for a fully functional indoor swimming centre might seem a little ambitious, Fipaza is determined to achieve the dream. He is constantly negotiating with
sponsors and donors who want to make a difference for the people of the area.

“Who knows, some of the best competitive swimmers may be right here, waiting to be trained,” he said.

Listen to a full interview with talk radio 702’s Kieno Kammies on Fipaza’s future plans for youth development in Kayamandi.

Source: News24