Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni
Premium Journalist
4 minute read
15 Jul 2017
5:25 am

Masibulele Liyaba: Sapinda Rainbow Foundation ambassador

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

Bigger purpose: How a gangster on drugs changed his mindset, then his life.

Masibulele Liyaba. Picture: Sapinda Rainbow

Sapinda Rainbow Foundation ambassador Masibulele Liyaba talks to Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni: This is the story of how I, a former gang member who was hooked on drugs, sailed across the seas and came back a man with a future and a dream.

It was 2013 and I was just living in the township with nothing better to do when I encountered officials from an NGO which was under the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

Sapinda Rainbow Foundation, the nongovernmental organisation that has been supporting me since then, wanted to find eight young people who would sail across the Indian Ocean to Australia.

I, Masibulele Liyaba, a young man born in the Eastern Cape and raised by my grandmother in Orkney in the North West, was going to sail halfway across the world.

It still feels like a dream. After I was selected, all eight of us were sent to Durban, which is when I took my first airplane flight.

I also found myself on the sea for the first time in my life. There I was in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight.

My life was changing so rapidly I barely had time to reflect on how surreal everything felt. I was the first black South African to participate in the notoriously difficult Rolex Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.

At first I doubted whether I could survive out at sea, but I told myself that I was okay and the training I received in Durban from the Clippers yacht club gave me confidence. But no amount of training could have fully prepared me for the race of my life.

Sailing across the sea, relying only on my strength and that of my team mates. The next thing to hit me, after mild motion sickness, was culture shock.

I was far out of my comfort zone with people from all walks of life, a dynamic which required that I abandon my mother tongue, isiXhosa, and speak English almost exclusively.

I felt very alone but at the same time, my mind was more open and freer than ever.

I was realising that there was a world outside of my usual routine, back home in Orkney, hanging out with friends who shared my habits of drugs and violence, passively resigned to the fate of those who lived like me.

I realised that I was capable of bringing more positive things into my life. Sapinda Rainbow Foundation has played a huge role in my life and continues to do so for all of us who are ambassadors for the NGO.

We were its first beneficiaries. What I have taken from this experience has shaped my entire mindset since then.

I had no respect for time, I didn’t know myself or see anything positive becoming of me in the foreseeable future. I was a young black man, hooked on drugs and full of anger.

This experience taught me the value of teamwork and working for a bigger purpose. My travels took me to places like London, where I saw for the first time how differently people lived out there, outside my little bubble.

On my return to South Africa, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I had to go back to school and make things right with my grandmother. You see, there wasn’t much money back at home.

The poverty I grew up with made me certain that university or any form of higher education were unlikely prospects for me.

But now that I had survived all those weeks at sea, I was unstoppable. Sapinda continued to assist me in my endeavours to finish my matric and it was then that I realised I am not academically inclined, but showed true potential in practical work.

I have managed to get through basic education and am now one of 90 students training under the department of public works in North West who will be learning carpentry for the next three years.

I have also had the opportunity to visit schools and communities to motivate them to see beyond their circumstances and pursue the impossible, as I have done.

My message to young boys and girls, who are where I once was, trapped in the poverty cycle, is that there is nothing more powerful than faith and self-belief. It is where you focus those energies that makes the difference. –