A heart of gold

Naftaly Malatjie is social entrepreneur at heart who was born in a 1991/01/01 in a small village called Malati Tzaneen Limpopo province, where he was raised by his grandmother. He attend Mlungishi primary school until grade 5 when his grandmother got a job in Gauteng. He then had to relocate to Diepsloot and continued with school at Rabasotho Combined School where he founded Diepsloot Youth Project which is now known as Southern Africa Youth Project at the age of 14. He was in Grade 10 at that time! We spoke with the man.
BD: What was your upbringing like?
NM: I grew up in a family of love and support although my parents weren’t working well and this can be challenging especially given the fact that I was in school and unlike other learners who had nice lunch boxes I had to carry pap and cabbage to school and sometimes I would go to school hungry with no money or lunch. This was because my father depended on a few piece jobs that he would source around our community and of which he was able to raise a modest income and, with this, we could only afford to provide groceries around for our household.
BD: A tough situation for many South African families that we see all around us…
NM: Yes, but fortunately I met an old lady who requested me to collect snuff containers and for each container she would pay me R1, therefore, I was able to make generate a few cents to finance my lunch and sometimes I made close to R50 which enabled me to further buy a few things for our household. After a few months I started selling sweets which also led to me making more money than I used to make from collecting containers and that is how I ventured into entrepreneurship. Despite my challenges I humbly thank my family for all the love and support they have and still continue to show me.
BD: At the tender age 14, many people were playing, oblivious to the challenges in and around their communities, yet you were able to establish a developmental institution, how did that happen?
NM: I looked around my community, Diepsloot, and realized that it is a poverty-stricken area and the fear I shared was that a lot of young people in my community were moving towards a life of crime and substance abuse, trapped in the cycle of poverty. At the time I was part of an acting school in Soweto and realized that I could keep young people, including myself, busy with positive activities. So I started a drama and theater group. This small initiative turned into Diepsloot Youth Project, a non-profit community training center that has since trained around 1,500 people in various skills, from computers to entrepreneurship to life skills such as applying for jobs and career counseling. There was a need for training within the community because people had to travel to the cities and towns which are way too expensive for them and some could not afford the courses offered by higher institutions and universities. So we have provided training for those young people for free or at a rate that they can afford. That is how the vision of “changing the way the youth think about themselves” came into life.
BD: What are some challenges you faced starting such an initiative?
NM: One of the challenges of running a business especially for public benefit at a young age is trust, because you are required to be in good standing in the community. So the process of learning about how things work was difficult initially. Sourcing funds for the project was a challenging because there were times when I had to walk from Diepsloot to Johannesburg and back submitting proposals for funding which was not easy. Sometimes, having to conduct sessions on an empty stomach while dealing with negative criticism from people who thought my idea was just child’s play, was also an issue. But with time and through sheer persistence I never lost sight of my vision of “changing the way young people think about themselves” which has led me to this time where thousands of young people’s lives are being empowered.
BD: Why drama and what other features did it possess at the time?
NM: I loved drama and attended a drama school myself and so at the time it was to bring young people to a place where they could learn from each other while having fun and this was keeping them away from engaging in illegal activities and becoming subject to some of the social issues especially within their community and respective homes. It was a program that had a lot of buy-in from young people and our activities provided a holistic approach and enabled them to express their personal experiences and support each other, they could also take part in Art and Culture competitions.
BD: Your initiative has now evolved to be known as Southern Africa Youth Project. What influenced the name change and all the new features that were added?
NM: I realized that Diepsloot isn’t the only township faced with such socio-economic issues and then decided to replicate the “Poverty2Jbos” model in two other areas Daveyton in Gauteng and and Atok in Limpopo. There is also a huge need for us to transform the lives of other young people throughout the rest of the SADC region. This is why the organization changed from Diepsloot Youth Project that only focused on one community to Southern Africa Youth Project that focuses on the youth within our region.
BD: You clearly have a passion for youth!
NM: I have a passion for youth development and looking back at the challenges that I was faced with, growing up, I made it an obligation to ensure that I can transform the lives of young people even if it’s one young person’s life at a time. Look, it is also quite clear that that the youth are the ones that are mostly affected by the socio-economic issues within townships: looking at unemployment, schools drop-outs, teenage pregnancy, crime, poverty, crime, substance abuse and the inability to access quality education and off course they are the future generation of our country. We also developed our programs in line with section 30 of the National Development Plan 2030 which focuses on the development of youth.
BD: How many members do you have in your organization?
NM: I have 16 members working for the organization including me, we also have a board of independent advisors.
BD: What are some lessons you learnt from this journey?
NM: Running an NGO has taught me a lot of lesson:
That all people that claim to support your idea and vision really want to do so.
You will get all kinds of negative remarks and criticism but you need to remain strong.
Humility, respect, acceptance and patience.
And most importantly the rule/principle of life that says “you need to give in order to receive.
Running a business requires a determination and effort.
BD: What are some of the requirements needed for one to be able to join your organization?
NM: Beneficiaries are required to provide a set of documents for verification and selection process. For training: They need to provide an ID copy and at least have passed Grade 10/11 or 12 and for job application we require an ID copy, proof of residence, three moths bank statement and copies of all their qualifications. Should a person not have passed grade 10 we encourage them to go back to school or enroll them for development programs that helps in terms of reading and speaking skills.

neftaly halfBD: With all the youth projects out there, does yours have that one unique feature that distinguishes it from the rest?
NM: We put the beneficiary first and our programs are focused more equipping the youth skills that are actually applicable in the job markets and enabling them to innovatively utilize the resources available to them to create sustainable opportunities for themselves and surrounding communities.
BD: Unemployment among the youth in South Africa is a huge issue. In your opinion, what steps should be taken by ordinary citizens to combat this issue?
NM: Ordinary citizens need to try and create an economy of scale where young people are trained to start earning an income and further train them on ways of using what’s available to them to create employment within their communities and this can be achieved through people working together and having businesses that feed off each other develop their respective communities.
BD: What influenced the decision to become an entrepreneur?
NM: Because of my background and the state in which I grew up in, I made a decision that I do not want to ever live in such conditions and try to ensure that no other child experiences what I went through and of course the need to create a sustainable venture for me and my family. I knew that change starts with one person deciding to pro-activity take charge and tirelessly working towards empowering him/herself and others around them.
BD: Who or what inspires you?
NM: Cyril Ramaphosa of which I learnt that “one does not measure success by amount of money in their bank account but, by the amount of knowledge and resources and the ability to use them to multiply what they currently have”. Despite being the Deputy President he continuously grows his name in the business industry while encouraging people from all corners of the world that we can make it.
BD: How would you like to be remembered?
NM: I would like to be remembered as man who whole-heartedly dedicated his life towards changing the lives of young people through my work as well as developing and empowering townships all over the SADAC Region.
BD: What makes being a social entrepreneur worth it?
NM: The ability to help and witness my work empower and develop young people’s lives makes it all worth it, there is nothing that inspires me more than witnessing a young person giving a testimony of how our work change their lives and not even money can compare to that.
BD: It is a life well lived. Congratulations.
NM: Thank you

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