GROUNDUP - Twenty-year-old Zanentlantla Mbala joined the Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club nine years ago. At first he found the sport strange, but today he wonders what would have become of him without it.
Mbala is one of dozens of young people recruited to the club by other canoeists, who aim to provide Soweto youth not only with an opportunity to practise the sport, but also with educational and career support.
The club was founded in 2003 by frequent paddler Brad Fisher who noticed a lack of black athletes among Gauteng paddlers. Veteran paddler and club coach Nkosi Mzolo has been part of the club since he moved to Johannesburg from KwaZulu-Natal in 2006 in search of work. He was already a paddler in KZN, and the existence of the club was one of the reasons he chose Johannesburg.
Through the club, Mzolo got employment as a driver and recieved support for studies at the City of Johannesburg for Emergency Management Services where he has since qualified as a paramedic and firefighter rescue technician. “Because of paddling, I came to Joburg. I got my first job. I was able to study.”
Mzolo, who has represented South Africa at championships in Senegal and Ivory Coast, still trains every week but spends most of his time training others. The club has 62 members, all from Soweto, recruited through friends and community members.
Mbala was recruited by Fish River Canoe Marathon medallist Siseko Ntondini.