On Saturday, 19 September 2020, two teams of young soccer players took to the field to practice their soccer skills in Henley Business School Africa sponsored kit. Soon they hope to be playing a full match against an adult Henley Africa side on the campus itself.
The teams aged between 10 and 16 are part of the Bright Spark Foundation set up by Henley student Welcome Witbooi. It’s a youth initiative to get young South Africans off the streets and out of the clutches of gangs and instead into the classroom and onto a track where they can achieve their full potential.
Witbooi, who is currently studying his Advanced Certificate in Management Practice at Henley Africa, is a determined social activist. A former general in the infamous 28s prison gang, he is on a mission to ensure children from vulnerable communities do not end up following the path he took because of the lack of real alternative opportunities.
“The children are busy studying maths and sciences in the class room, but also pursuing what we call APC: acting photography and choreography,” he says. “We needed to get them onto the sports field too, where we could get them physically fit and teach them about leadership.”
As a contact sport, he says, soccer is a perfect platform to engage when players get angry after being tackled or fouled, allowing Witbooi and his counsellors to teach conflict resolution in real-life real-time scenarios with positive outcomes.
The foundation intends fielding two age group teams in the Super Sports Schools league when the lockdown allows for its resumption. At the moment they are training on Saturday mornings at Balfour Park in preparation.
Henley was an obvious place for Witbooi to seek sponsorship from, as he explains: “Kids love brands, but sometimes those are negative and empty brands. My idea with Henley is that this is a positive and an aspirational one.
“Most of these kids have first hand experience of gender-based violence, many of them come from single parent families, almost all of them suffer from poverty. The Henley brand signifies a future out of all of that. I’m at Henley having received that goodwill to help create my own future, I wanted to share that same aspiration with them – that they too could one day study management through the ladder of learning, all the way to an MBA even.
“I approached (Henley Africa dean and director) Jon (Foster-Pedley) and he saw what I was trying to do and immediately offered to help with kits: shirts, socks and shorts.”
Foster-Pedley says there wasn’t much of a decision to make.
“Welcome survived an immensely difficult time to lead a very different life in the brand-new world he has chosen to create and inhabit. I respect his journey immensely, especially the way he was rediscovered his sense of worth and self-respect and how he works tirelessly to maintain this.
“Quite simply, he is an inspiration. This soccer team reflects both his journey and his continuing aspiration, allowing him to continue his mission to inspire the next generation and allow them to unlock their potential in the best way possible – sometimes against intolerable odds.
“And that’s precisely what Henley is all about, when you think about it,” says Foster-Pedley, “building the leaders who build the businesses (and the communities) who build Africa.”