Township life has its harsh realities and those who have experienced them should try to uplift those youngsters who are at risk of being sucked into a life of crime, violence and drugs – Thembani “Terror” Gqeku, a former professional boxer, is that person.
Gqeku runs the African Youth Boxing Club in Khayelitsha, which he established in 2011 to get more youngsters off the streets. He was driven to open his boxing club after he saw two youngsters trying to stab each other.
Khayelitsha is a partially informal township in Western Cape, located on the Cape Flats in Cape Town. The name is isiXhosa for “new home”. It is reputed to be the largest and fastest-growing township in South Africa.
“I was looking out of the window and saw two boys fighting with knives and I thought, ‘No, this is not right. Two people should not be fighting like this,'” Gqeku said.
Gqeku is playing his part to develop his community and improve skills of those youngsters with whom he works. In his way, in his area, he is working to achieve the goals of the National Development Plan or Vision 2030.
Although all townships have a reputation for violence and the youngsters need to know how to protect themselves, this is not the only thing they learn at the African Youth Boxing Club. “It teaches the youngsters discipline, style… how to survive in life and how to protect themselves,” said Gqeku.
He took up boxing when he was just nine years old. It gave him a reason not to smoke, drink, or hang out with gangsters, as do so many other young boys in the township.
Gqeku trains a total of 38 children, mostly boys, and aged seven to 15. Training happens six days a week but the schedule is informal. Children start arriving at 3pm and the class starts once enough children are at the gym.
“If I get the boys into boxing, I get them out of crime… The boys who train with me, they think twice before committing crimes.”
Gqeku, who is unemployed and has five children of his own, runs the gym for free. “I’d love to have a kit for them,” he said. “My dream is that they can walk in the street and everyone will see that they are from African Youth Boxing Club.”
Another need was for essential boxing equipment such as gum guards, boxing gloves, headgear and funds for the boxers to enter tournaments, he said. “When I think of all the challenges, I could cry but these are my boys and I will do anything for them.”
He is not alone in his quest. South African township gyms have a long history of creating national and international boxing champions.
Gqeku was named Lead SA’s Hero of the Month in September 2014. You can contact Lead SA if you would like to help African Youth Boxing Club.