Bryn Mbulawa

Bryn Mbulawa

Hoops of Hope

A love for the game of basketball and his community of Imizamo Yethu inspired Bryn Mbulawa (27) to establish a homegrown basketball league with nothing more than just a vision to give back.

Bryn was born in Zimbabwe and grew up there with his parents and his two brothers – one older and another younger than him

He remembers enjoying a happy childhood.  

“We had this beautiful, happy family. We had never had quarrels and I think it’s because my Dad was a nice chap, a mentor and he supported our extended family. He could afford to do those kinds of things because he was earning good money as a CEO at the city council and my mom was a teacher.”

But tragedy struck the family when Bryn was 12 years old. His father passed away after a short illness.

“He was diagnosed with diabetes, he just got sick for six months and that was it. He was strong and healthy before that and in such a short time he was dead.

“When he died the mood just changed in the family. My dad was our darling. We missed him so much.

“My mom raised us by herself, she’s really strong. She never got married again.”

The year after Bryn’s father died, when Bryn turned 13, he embarked on a journey of independence and self-reliance that would shape his adulthood. Bryn was enrolled in boarding school 300km away from his home, so he could have a proper education.

 

“There was no mom there. You had to look after yourself. You washed your own clothes. You made your own bed. You had to be time conscious. You woke up at 5.30am with no hot water because there were no geysers. If you wanted a hot bath you had to boil the water up yourself. If you missed a meal that’s it, you went hungry until the next.

“I spent 6 years of my life there. The experienced changed me, I stopped being a child and I became an independent young adult.”

It was in boarding school that Bryn was introduced to the game of basketball and it was the beginning of a lifelong love affair for the game.

“I played through my whole high school and when I was 16 years old I captained the under-16 team. We travelled around the country to compete. The experience made me a better person because it taught me leadership skills. When you are given the privilege to captain you carry the hopes of the whole school. You are not just playing for yourself, you are playing for the whole school. The good reports about our team’s performance made me feel good and people were praising me. My classmates respected me and the girls liked me!”

But the time he invested in basketball meant he had less time to focus on his academic performance and his grades began to slide.

Bryn passed his final year of high school but it was not the standard he had hoped for.

“I passed, but not very well. I did not manage my time and efforts well. It was easy to focus on my passion that gave me immediate recognition and a good feeling. Versus studying for a long-term goal. My pass was just an average and I am still regretting it. That’s my biggest regret in life.”

After high school, Bryn considered his options in Zimbabwe.

“After my final year of high school, things were bad economically in Zimbabwe. There was political conflict in the country and the currency was weak. It put the country in the ground. It affected my family. My mom would sometimes go for two months without a salary as a teacher.

“For other families, they were going through even tougher times. People were suffering a lot. I felt we were a hopeless country. I felt hopeless myself, I felt like there was nothing I could do because it affected everybody. So, I decided to get my travel documents ready so that I could go to South Africa. My wish was to be in a place where if you worked hard you could be given a fair chance.”

Bryn had family living in Imizamo Yethu in Cape Town and he moved to join them.

“I was 19 years old and it was cool coming here. It was a new environment. I could have a bank card and go to the ATM and there is money. If you want fuel you can get fuel and you won’t see a 3km queue of people waiting for fuel. But it was also a different vibe, a bit scary at the same time. You just hear that somebody next door got murdered or somebody got shot.

“You don’t hear those things in Zim at all. It affected me badly psychologically - that I could be on the edge of life at any moment. It made me more anxious and careful in general.”

Bryn also had to adapt to the local culture so that he could fit in.

“I only knew Shona and English. Most locals here speak Afrikaans and Xhosa. I had to learn the languages.”

Bryn managed to study further with the support of his family and friends. He finished his tertiary education at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and began to work.

However, the violence and crime in his community still bothered him. He decided to do something about it and gathered the young leaders in the community of Imizamo Yethu to brainstorm the ways in which they could combat the surge of crime in their community.

“I was directed through word- of -mouth to people who could help. Eventually, with just two basketball hoops that were donated to me, I began scouting young people between 11 and 12 years of age living in the community to play basketball. The fact that there was no basketball court in the community did not stop me and the first game I organised was in an unused parking lot over the weekend. The first game attracted 20 young people and the next weekend 40 young people showed up to play the game. It was clear the concept had been proven.”

Bryn would train the interested young people to play the game in the evenings after he finishing his 9 to 5 job for the day. He also used the game of basketball as a way to introduce life skills to the young people.

“I wanted to make them understand the values of life. That you don’t just receive, you also have to give back. On Mandela days, we volunteer at organisations to clean the place.”

During the early days of the basketball club formation, Brian used his own money to fund activities. He also made sure to distance his own involvement in the decision- making of the club and he ensured that a board was formed for the basketball club.

“I didn’t want to make it my own thing. I wanted to give it to the community. We drafted our constitution which is aligned with our roadmap. I did it this way so that everything can continue and it’s not just one man doing everything.”

After one year, the club, named the Hout Bay Snipers Basketball Club, was officially launched.

“I felt proud. My family was there. My boss also came on that day. The parents of the kids in the team came in numbers to support. Business people from Hout Bay came. I felt I played my part as a human being to impact other people’s lives. I saved kids from knives and bullets and I brought some new hope to my community.

“The basketball club has a holistic approach; Fridays are set aside for tutoring the young players in their school work. They have to achieve and maintain a certain grade in order to stay in the basketball club. In addition, the young players together with their parents have to sign a code of conduct which governs the young players' behaviour.”

The club expanded to include girls and boys and those who have been members since the beginning have become mentors to the newly signed up members.

“Now we are starting to win. We are getting the winning mentality. I feel good about it. I feel happy for the kids because they know what they are doing. I don’t take a paycheck from this and I don’t expect to. I just want to see this happening, and for it to serve generations to come. I did this out of love. This is a passion, a love of sports and a love for my community.”

Bryn has a vision for the club that extends many years into the future.

“We created the club to be a safe environment for everybody. We use basketball as a vehicle to success. What I wanna see once you come as an eight-year-old is that as a 20-year-old you are at university or that you travel overseas. Then you come back and give back.”

When Bryn was asked his final thoughts, he concluded, “We all have the power to create a better world for all of us. We should stop complaining about what is wrong and put our energy into changing things. Each of us needs to answer the following: are you part of the problem or part of the solution? I chose to be hope.   

Bryn is a friend of Life Choices.