Farewell Lindani, by Liesl King
Lindani Mchunu arrived at the Academy in March 2017, to find a group of kids from the Emagqabini Education Foundation there, as well as kids from various orphanages in Gugulethu, Khayelitsha and the Cape Flats. The kids mostly spoke Xhosa and came from a variety of backgrounds, while the instructors were all young white sailors. The focus of the Academy was mainly on high performance sailing and with these kids knowing nothing about sailing, often unable to swim and with a huge language barrier, it was a bridge too far.
A few of the naturally talented kids ended up taking part in races, but most of the kids really didn’t know what they were supposed to do. On Saturdays they went to the Club, went out on a boat, had a hot dog, and went home. Not only was there a language barrier, but there were social and background challenges as well. That was the Academy that Lindani walked into in March 2017, as an applicant for the position of Academy Manager.
With the idea that the Academy needed to expand as well as becoming self-sustaining, the Club was looking for a manager. They needed somebody who could raise funds and expand the Academy’s footprint in terms of its reputation and in terms of governmental programs. Faced by a panel, Lindani found the interview to be quite daunting, but as he says, he must have said something right as they took him on.
“The problem the Club was facing was to find somebody who knew our world, who could speak the language of the kids, who could sail and yet could mingle with government officials and heads of companies. Who could walk into boardrooms and present the Club’s vision for the Academy,” explains Lindani. “There were many brilliant sailors around who could run the program, but few of them had the unique skill set that the Academy needed. On the other hand, I didn’t think that there was a place that could use my sailing skills as well as some of the business skills I had picked up over the years. The Academy however, was the perfect place for me. It was almost too good to be true.”
As with anything new, there was a fair bit of uncertainty as to what would happen next once a manager had been appointed. In the end it came down to a memorable road trip. Lindani was asked to take some of the kids to a Youth Regatta in Durban. Flights were prohibitively expensive and hence Lindani and the kids set off in a minibus to Durban. “What a trip it was. I got close to the kids through that road trip, and we really bonded. After that trip the Club management saw that I could handle a huge responsibility, uphold the name and reputation of the Club and that they could trust me.”
The second big turning point was a meeting with Yvette de Klerk, the National Cadet Program manager of the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI). It was a program for predominantly young black seafarers who ended up either in the Navy or the commercial sailing world. After that meeting Lindani realised that he needed to modify the Academy’s program. He needed government departments to fund the Academy program and government departments wanted some sort of qualification or certificate, not just the skill of a leisure activity such as sailing a boat.
“We needed to change our offering. We needed to offer all the sailing qualifications that were out there. Day Skipper, Competent Crew, Coastal Skipper, Maritime related courses, such as first aid, firefighting, and swimming. And then we had to train people, who could speak Xhosa and be able to interact with the kids on their level, to be qualified instructors.” It was the way forward. A way to show not only the relevance of the program, but also to make a real change, to create jobs for young people in a country with massive unemployment. Lindani realised that the Academy kids needed skills and qualifications that could be utilised in all sectors of the maritime industry, whether it be boat building, commercial shipping, charters, or cruise liners.
In 2018 the Academy really started to take shape. Lindani’s main priority was to find black instructors in order to overcome the language barrier. “I needed black instructors as you cannot be inspired by something that you do not relate with. The kids needed to be trained by people who looked like them, who spoke like them and who came from the same background as them. The kids needed to believe that the goal was possible, that they could do it too.”
He found many that had the sailing skills, but none of them were qualified instructors. SAIMI came onboard, providing the Academy with R250,000 for the training of instructors and Lindani selected four guys that he thought would become good instructors and who also sailed. Alex Mamacos, at Good Hope Sailing, stepped up and took on the challenge of turning them into instructors. It wasn’t easy as they had varying levels of education, but Lindani had the bit between his teeth and with all four finally qualified he was ready to take his plan to the next level.
An invitation to address the steering committee of SAIMI in Port Elizabeth, proved the perfect opportunity to present his vision and to drum up more funding for the Academy. In 2017 he had been interviewed for the CNN program Inside Africa. It was this interview that he played for the SAIMI committee, before explaining the Academy’s new program and the need for more funding. Fund raising is never an easy endeavour. Lindani however, faced extra barriers. Not only was the Royal Cape Yacht Club seen as a ‘colonial institution’ due to its name, but sailing was perceived to be a sport for millionaires, so why was funding even needed, when the Club had such ‘rich’ members.
“My focus was always on the kids. It was never about being black, white, English, Xhosa, male, or female. It was all about the kids. It was about someone’s life and what you could do to make that life better.” It was this focus and steadfast belief in what he was doing that opened doors wherever he went. It soon became clear that Lindani needed some backup, leaving him free to focus on fundraising and interaction with government. Momelezi Funani, who had been a candidate from Lindani’s first program was hired to become his assistant.
2018 was another momentous year for the Academy. Two major events occurred. The Academy received its first million from SAIMI and Lindani met Malcolm Alexander, the TETA Maritime Practitioner for the first time. “It was one of the greatest introductions that I ever had. It was to be a rocket launcher for the Academy,” says Lindani. This relationship was to produce heights of funding such as had never been seen before. Within weeks of meeting, Alexander and Lindani were working on a proposal for R2.3 million for the training of students over a period of two years.
Keep in mind that when Lindani arrived in 2017, the Academy had an annual budget of roughly R700,000 and he was its sole employee. Now he was proposing R2.3 million for one project. It was time for the Academy to have a treasurer and Dave Garrard joined the Academy committee. With such phenomenal growth and with the level of funding the Academy was now receiving, it was also time for the Academy to become an NPO.
“It was through that TETA project that the Academy became what it is now. We learnt new skills, and everybody was involved in producing the proposal for that two-year project. It had to cover everything, but it was something we had never done. It was a massive challenge.” The proposal was submitted in September 2018 and in early February 2019 Lindani received a letter stating that the full R2.3 million had been approved. “I think everybody was in shock. Even me, I was just taking a chance and it came off. TETA had never funded a sailing program before, it was just insane to get that letter. We finally had lift off!”
The TETA funding meant that more instructors could be taken on, extra boats were purchased, and the yacht Archangel joined the fleet. The Academy also signed an MOU with the Department of Transport. In 2020 Lindani was asked to join the board of the World Sailing Trust and he was also instrumental in the signing of an MOU between CPUT, TETA and the Academy. In June 2021 he submitted a second proposal to TETA, this time for R3.2 million to train 30 students. Six months later he received the confirmation that the proposal had been approved.
Sadly, the time has come for Lindani to move on to greater things. He will shortly be taking up the position of Marine Manager at the V&A Waterfront. It is never easy to hand over something as precious as the Academy, especially when it has been your everything for so long, but as Lindani says, he is leaving it in a position of great strength. He knows that the continuity of the program he has created is in good hands and that he can watch with confidence as the Academy continues to head for the stars.
Lindani, we wish you well in your future endeavours, and Thank You!