- Mario van Niekerk is a former gangster in Cape Town
- The birth of his son inspired him to make a difference in his community
- He established a soccer club to keep kids away from gangs
A reformed gangster in Heideveld, Cape Town, is using sports to help keep kids in his community away from gangs.
Mario van Niekerk joined a gang at the age of 11 after losing his dad at the age of eight, Briefly.co.za learned. At the time, the gang offered him a sense of family.
Fortunately, he left the gang upon becoming a father. Speaking to Beautiful News, Mario said he couldn't allow his son to grow up the same way he did.
When I started my own family, I realised that I needed to be a positive influence in my own community.
He therefore founded Great Commission United (GCU) in 2001. It's a sports-oriented project that offers kids a chance to stay out of trouble. Its main sport is soccer, but it also has hockey and cycling.
Although he initially encountered some resistance from his community because of his past, he persisted. Residents eventually trusted him after he proved that reformation is possible.
Mario uses GSU to teach the youngsters forgiveness and to take responsibility for their actions. With this support, they are able to chart a straighter path in life.
Mario explained the value of sports, particularly soccer, in the development of the youth:
Soccer creates a community and a safe place. I can see how the kids who go through the programme are different. I hope I'm able to uplift the youth every day. There's always another game. There's always a second chance.
Watch a funny animated joke in the video below from our Briefly - South Africa YouTube channel.
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