Mining helping to show how rich and poor South Africans can work arm-in-arm as volunteers

Rick Menell (left) and Murphy Morobe (Photo by: Darlene Creamer)



Johannesburg- ( – Every year, 700 000 to 800 000 young South Africans leave school with extremely limited prospects of obtaining employment, adding to the statistic of three- to four-million people younger than 25 who are already unemployed.

One of the country’s most pressing challenges is finding ways of preparing these young people for employment and life as adult citizens in a constitutional democracy. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video).

An organisation that has been meeting those needs is City Year, which began functioning ten years ago in the offices of the former Anglovaal Mining (Avmin) in Main street, Johannesburg.

Co-chaired by anti-apartheid struggle stalwart Murphy Morobe and former Avmin CEO and banking luminary Rick Menell, City Year would now like to see the concept of a year of voluntary youth service spreading beyond Johannesburg to South Africa’s other main urban centres.

So far, it has provided 1 683 young people with the chance to perform voluntary after-school tutoring and mentoring of 23 000 school children, with the volunteers using the year as a launch pad into a wide range of careers, entrepreneurship and new learning opportunities.

“It’s the cheapest way to prepare people for the world of work,” commented Menell, who heads Credit Suisse South Africa.

Willingness to offer help voluntarily to others is seen as a way of building a society that “isn’t all me, me, me; grab, grab, grab”, he added in the attached video interview with Creamer Media’s Mining Weekly Online.

Volunteers of all races are screened for demonstrated commitment to community service and must have matriculated because of the role they play in helping younger children with their academic work.

“Often we get graduates from university. We try to get as much diversity as we can to show that South Africans, arm-in-arm, rich and poor, can engage together in voluntary work,” Menell commented to Mining Weekly Online.

Limited resources have restricted the yearly intake to between 100 and 200 volunteers a year, but City Year is now increasingly being seen as an enormously valuable model that the country should expand.

“I believe we have the basis for scale,” Morobe, the national director of Jika iMfundo, told Mining Weekly Online.

City Year receives 40% of its funding from the public sector and 40% from South African and foreign corporates, with most of the mining houses and banks coming to the table and many individuals and foundations putting their hands in their pockets.

It costs between R40 000 and R50 000 a volunteer a year, which is much higher than the R18 000 set as standard for youth service, which City Year believes is inadequate.

There is, thus, a funding challenge, but return on investment a year is enormous when one takes into account the opportunity cost of having people in their twenties and thirties being out of work indefinitely.

It is seen as being cheap when the full impact on people’s lives is taken into account, particularly when the number of younger learners who are tutored and mentored by volunteers is considered.

“We would love to see hundreds of thousands of youth doing a year of service. We think it would transform South Africa,” said Menell, who is also deputy chairperson of Gold Fields and a non-executive director of Sibanye Gold and Rockwell Diamonds.

But that would require a constellation of organisations and a central government funding mechanism.

It would generate the take-up of a sophisticated service model that is a far cry from initiatives like the expanded public works service, where participants dig for six months, receive a stipend and walk away with little but the ability to work with a shovel.

“A strong element is about initiative. Once the self-confidence is built up, these people exhibit a strong sense of initiative,” said Morobe. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video).

Ten per cent of the graduates have founded their own businesses. One of the alumni, Daylene van Buuren, currently runs the organisation as City Year South Africa executive director; and another, Danny Tong, founded the InvesTong Group, a multidisciplinary 100% black-owned investment holding company, and this year became the first past graduate to donate to the City Year programme.

Teams are challenged to leave a legacy project in the schools where they have served for a year, such as a feeding scheme, a market garden or a library.

“We believe voluntary civilian social service – not military service – is the best model,” said Menell when asked to comment on the national youth service initiative proposed by the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs, which proposes that 300 000 unemployed youth become part of a National Defence Force programme over the next five years.

South Africa’s youth development policy of 2004, which was introduced by the Mbeki administration and which remains today, is seen by City Year as being sound and centred on developing youth entrepreneurship as a way of providing opportunity, education and training initiatives.

It is regarded as a clearly articulated programme, offering youth a chance to do useful social service for a year while being trained for at least 40% of the time that they commit.

The volunteers are paid a stipend so that they have sustenance, can make decisions about income and gain work experience.

City Year is thus entirely aligned to the objective of South Africa’s national youth policy, making it one of a handful of organisations that is officially accredited.

Many of the members of its volunteer teams who tutor eight- to-14-year-old school pupils are from single-parent or no-parent families and it has been found that a caring mentor can change young lives and have a huge impact if taken to scale.

With the mantra of spirit, purpose, discipline and pride, the volunteers used to be dressed in uniforms that Timberland provided.

One of City Year’s biggest supporters has been the Department of Environment Affairs, which is currently providing the organisation with R5-million a year and with which City Year is partnered as an implementer of the Youth Environmental Service Programme launched in 2013.

As a nonprofit organisation for people between the ages of 18 and 25 who have provided more than a million hours of service, City Year serves nine primary schools across Gauteng in Tsakane, Tembisa, Sebokeng, Meyerton, Randfontein, Westonaria, Kagiso, Diepkloof and Lawley.

Founded in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1988, it is active in 27 communities across the US and has international affiliates in London, Birmingham and Manchester, in the UK.

Menell’s own commitment to the sector was triggered personally in the early 2000s when he was driving to a luxury game lodge in Sabi Sabi and passed a high school from which 400 incredibly bright-faced energetic youth were leaving for the day and pouring out into the street jabbering and engaging.

Owing to his work in the private sector with corporate social investment programmes, he was well aware that only 5% of those 400 had any chance of getting gainful employment and improving their lives.

“It’s a shocking statistic. I just looked at these kids and I thought, my God, what a tragedy.

“And that’s what drives us and I think it drives everybody who cares for the country,” Menell confided.

He loves the Goldman Sachs numbers of training 300 000 young people at a cost of R62-billion over five years, which is more than R200 000 a head a year, but calculates that 100 000 youth in service would require 10 000 team leaders, or sergeants, and 1 000 officers to manage it. He regards City Year as being a potential training ground for those thousands of team leaders and mentors.

“Military service is admirable service to society but it’s within a command and control environment of ‘break them down and then build them up’, so that they obey orders.

“That’s not what we’re about. We’re about self-directed citizens who are volunteering to serve their fellow citizens in a thoughtful and a principled way through work – a military process cannot achieve those values in the same way,” Menell contended.

Morobe suggested that Goldman Sachs might consider grafting some of the City Year values into its proposed programme.

“It’s easy to get the 300 000 people but once you’ve got them, what’s the model, what process do you take them through, for them to come out on the other side with a set of values that links up with the constitutional paradigm of a new democratic environment, a work ethic and their ability to conceive of how they fit in to an adult life in society,” he queried.

City Year spreads the message of voluntary service being a vital tool for dealing with youth unemployment and also for consolidating a successful constitutional democracy.

City Year South Africa’s 2014 Opening Day & Red Jacket Ceremony

City Year South Africa Welcomes Its 2014 Corps

On Friday, the City Year South Africa 2014 corps burst through the doors of our event space, generously donated to us by Bain Capital, and got the proceedings started with a truly South African version of City Year’s PT.

Click on the photo below to watch a video of the corps performing PT.

After Daylene van Buuren, our Executive Director, opened the ceremony for us, we moved into the jacketing part of the programme. This was the first time that the corps had worn their jackets, and they looked incredible!

We were honored to have two guest speakers at our event, Ms. Nomfundiso Giqwa, Director of Programme Training and Youth Development from the Department of Environmental Affairs, and Mr. Paul Marchand, Senior Vice President at Bain Capital. Both Ms. Giqwa and Mr. Marchand, spoke of the impact that City Year has, not only on the lives of the children who are tutored by our corps members, but also the impact that the programme has on the corps members themselves.

As you know, at the end of last year, City Year South Africa lost a gentleman who was very near to us – Former President Nelson Mandela. As one of our founders, we felt his death quite keenly, and wanted to pay tribute to the man who gave us so much. The City Year South Africa choir, together with a group of corps members performed a tribute to Tata Madiba, and presented our board co-chairs with a City Year jacket dedicated to our beloved Madiba.

Click on the photo below to watch a clip from the Madiba Tribute. 

The ceremony was closed by our board co-chairs, Mr. Murphy Morobe, and Mr. Rick Menell, who left the corps with some incredibly inspirational words of encouragement.

Now that their training is complete, and they are decked out in their new uniforms and red jackets, our corps will fulfill their roles as tutors, mentors and role models to children throughout Johannesburg. Monday is their first day in schools, and we can’t wait to share their stories with you as they unfold!

Our event was generously sponsored by:

Bain Capital Logo




Monday’s Starfish – “You Matter”

By Bakang Gunika

My team serves in Kagiso on the West Rand, at WD Oliphant Primary School. There is a grade 6 boy who is part of our after-school programme, and struggled with mathematics, especially multiplication. His lack of understanding made him reluctant to participate in class. And in this case, when the learner was unwilling to do certain tasks, it led him to be destructive in class.

One of my teammates noticed that he was not paying attention in class, and approached him. With a with a calm voice she asked, “What seems to be the problem?” He replied, saying he didn’t understand and was not interested. At first the boy resisted the daily help he received from my teammate. She had heard that no matter what she did to help, the learner would keep on disappointing her. It is better to leave him alone, she was told.

But she was committed to helping him. She didn’t take the nasty things she had heard about the young boy into consideration. She ignored the stories, and was determined to be open-minded. I think she doesn’t believe in the word, impossible. The way she attended to him was so warm and friendly, that the learner soon opened up to her. She explained how to do multiplication in different ways. Ways that he could understand and follow. She reminded him that in mathematics, there are many ways to arrive at an answer.

Before long the boy started to see the light, and we started seeing wonders. I was so astounded, as was his teacher, by his development and progress. His classwork scores soared and by him improving, he started enjoying mathematics. But most of all, he restored his love of learning. City Year has only been in the school for a few months, but we have Service Leaders that are already having an impact on children’s lives. I’m thrilled at how quickly we managed to really help someone, and we still have plenty of time before the end of the year to make more of a difference.

Monday’s Starfish – Helping One Child At A Time

By Thobekile Mkwebula

When I found out which community I would be assigned to for my year of service, my face filled with fear. I felt uncertain about how exactly I would be able to make a difference in an unfamiliar place, and a totally different community to the one I grew up in. But that fear and apprehension all disappeared after the warm welcome my teammates and myself received from the school we would be serving in.

Once I had spent time interacting with learners in the classroom, I was struck by the overwhelming sense that my presence was highly appreciated, and that just by being around, a change had already been made.

After settling in, I discovered that, as is often the case, learners were being paired according to their academic capabilities. I found this to be limiting, and wanted to create a space in our after-school programme where all my learners had the opportunity to excel and flourish.

I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about creating that space, and thought that in order for me to achieve the idea I would need the help of someone wiser and more experienced. But I also came to the realization that if I was able to identify the challenge, it was likely that I also possessed the ability to work on it and overcome it.

As I identified learners who were having trouble with certain subjects, I started having one-on-one conversations with them, to discover exactly how they viewed their lessons in class. I discovered that the challenge lay in their ability to understand and unpack the lessons they were given.

So I decided to try something a little different. I started using cue cards as a means to improve their literacy skills, and to my surprise that provided a lot of help. They loved it so much that they eventually took over the responsibility of creating the cards themselves. My job suddenly became a lot easier, because the students became eager to learn.

Helping those learners improve their ability to read and write was rewarding, but what has made my experience as a Service Leader worth it, was one learner in particular. He isolated himself from all the activities, and was always distracting the other kids in class. Approaching him about his behaviour was a challenging experience, because most people had already given up on him. But all it took was one conversation with him. I was deeply touched by the way he spoke to me, revealing how inferior he felt amongst all the other students. His difficulties were not rooted in being a problem child, but rather in how he had never been given a chance to truly express himself.

I spent time working with him over the next few days, and was over the moon when he scored over 70% for a spelling test the following week. But the best part, was the light I saw in his face whenever an educator was in class. The doubt I had in myself at the start was the same doubt he had in himself, and I would like to believe that by us coming together, we were both able to overcome the uncertainty that had trapped us. It is my honour to have met him, and helped him achieve what he is truly capable of.

Meet the Team: Lindiwe Tshabalala

Lindiwe Tshabalala

Lindiwe Tshabalala

Born an raised in Orlando West, in Soweto, Lindiwe first joined City Year in 2009 as a Service Leader in Lenasia, and recently joined the staff as a Site Leader overseeing the team serving at Bapedi Primary.

We caught up with Lindiwe a little earlier, and this is what she had to say:

Lindiwe, how did you hear about City Year and what motivated you to join the organisation?

I first heard about City Year in 2007 while I was living in Lawley, in the south of Johannesburg. City Year had (and still has) a team working there, and I talked to Service Leaders about the work that they were doing. Their passion for service motivated me to join the organisation, along with my love for community service.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Meeting amazing people. Last week I was fortunate enough to meet City Year’s Dean, Charlie Rose. I’ve heard so much about him, and it was great to finally meet him in person. City Year exposes us to a huge amount of inspirational and interesting people, which I really appreciate.

What is your most memorable City Year moment?

During my year corps year we arranged and hosted a service day in the community in which our team was based. It was a huge event that involved our entire corps, and went off extremely well.

What is your favourite thing to do outside of City Year?

I love athletics. I joined the Orlando Athletics Club in 1999 and subsequently joined the Diggers Athletics club in Turffontein. I competed in 100m and 10km events, and more recently I have taken up speed-walking.

Why do you think it’s important for young people to commit to a year of service?

A year of service affords you the opportunity to do a lot of introspection and figure out exactly what it is you want to do in life. You are also introduced to all kinds of people, which helps you develop a sense of perspective about where you fit into the world.

Do you have a favourite quote?

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world” -Mahatma Gandhi

Tell us about something important you have learned at City Year

Probably the two most significant things I have learned at City Year are the importance of respect and the spirit of Ubuntu.

What motivates you?

My son, Modimomphemetse. He is 4 years old and is the light of my life.

Thanks, Lindiwe!


Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngamantu. I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours. – Zulu Proverb

The spritual foundation of South African society, Ubuntu involves a belief in a universal bond of sharing and respect that connects all of humanity. Ubuntu is a concept formally recognised by the 1996 South African Governmental White Paper on Welfare as, “The principal of caring for each other’s well-being…and a spirit of mutual support…Each individual’s humanity is ideally expressed through his or her relationship with others and theirs in turn through recognition of the individuals humanity. Ubuntu means that people are people through other people. It also acknowledges both the rights and responsibilities of every citizen in promoting individual and societal well-being.

Ubuntu Hands (Photo: Elliot Haney 2009)

Ubuntu Hands (Photo: Elliot Haney 2009)

Ubuntu also conveys the idea the a person cannot be complete if others do not enjoy full humanity. The spirit of Ubuntu resonates so strongly that if one group within society is denied its humanity, then no individual in that society can fully realize his or her own humanity. The urgency to change this injustice becomes paramount.

We can put the spirit of Ubuntu – respect, human dignity, compassion, and community – to work in our daily lives through our interactions with others, from greeting others as we pass them in hallways or on the street to ensuring that all segments of society are included in social welfare policies so that each person has the means to lead a life of dignity. Ubuntu has the power to help us build an inclusive, respectful, and vibrant community nation and world.

Text taken from City Year’s book of Founding Stories.

Summer Academy 2012

By Daylene van Buuren

Errol Radebe and I recently had the privilege of representing City Year South Africa at City Year’s annual Summer Academy in Boston, Massachusets. Summer Academy is a time for the organization’s staff and senior corps members from around the network to come together for a period of intensive and productive learning, networking and fun. Since its beginning in 1993, Summer Academy has served as a vehicle for leading organizational change and sharing and cultivating our organization’s strong culture and best practices, while aligning on our collective, mission, vision, strategy and goals.  Summer Academy’s theme is “Learn. Lead. Transform.”  

The goals of Summer Academy are:

•To align staff and senior corps on shared mission, vision, strategy, goals and culture.

•To build skills and knowledge to support individuals work, and City Year’s collective efforts to help achieve transformational outcomes for students while developing corps members as leaders.

•To connect staff and senior corps members as a united workforce of practising idealists, and begin to build bonds and networks among City Year’s communities of practise that will serve as an ongoing learning resource throughout the year. Approximately 1000 staff were in attendance and 300 workshops were held over 6 days from 16-21 July.

Staff and corps at morning Physical Training

It took Errol and I roughly two days to travel from Johannesburg to Boston, and we were tired when we arrived, but the spirit, inspiration and energy we felt from our colleagues in the US, really made the jet lag seem minor in comparison. The week was intense, filled with workshops, reflection and sharing, and the Summer Academy team did not disappoint. They infused spirit and fun into everything that we did. In between all the hard work, we had an amazing talent show, where staff and corps members from around the network displayed a multitude of abilities and gifts, and we were warmed up everyday with some great Physical Training. One of my favourite moments from the week was receiving the Ubuntu(My Humanity is Tied to Yours) Boot. This acknowledgement arose from a week long campaign to acknowledge staff and senior corps who displayed City Year Values.

The Ubuntu Boot

Errol and I were also lucky enough to get some one-on-one time with City Year CEO and Co-Founder Michael Brown. We talked about how important it is to grow City Year globally, and Michael re-affirmed that as staff we all have a big responsibility to grow and improve City Year, so that it can effect even greater change in the lives of others. Having learned so much and acquired so many new tools, we are bursting with excitement at the prospect of using them to grow City Year South Africa in 2013!

Errol and Daylene with Michael Brown

Summer Academy In Numbers:

  • 1,003 staff and Senior Corps Members from across the City Year network.
  • 7 days in this year’s Academy.
  • 300+ training sessions were attended by staff and senior corps.
  • 3 new City Year sites attending Academy for the first time!

Photos by Elliot Haney

President Clinton Visits City Year South Africa

City Year South Africa was honoured yesterday to host former President Bill Clinton at a service event in Freedom Park, Soweto.  President Clinton, together with our former President Nelson Mandela played an important role in the founding of City Year South Africa. Hosting a conference on Civil Society in Cape Town in 2001, Mandela extended an invitation to Clinton, who accepted and brought along a delegation from the US, which included representatives from City Year Inc. It was after this conference that dialogue started about a possible City Year in South Africa and the site was officially launched in 2005.

The event yesterday was held at the Ikusasa Lethu Youth Project, which serves the children and residents of the Freedom Park and Devland communities. Ikusasa Lethu (which means “Tomorrow is in our hands) serves three meals a day to almost 300 children and also provides home-based care to the elderly.

140 City Year South Africa Service Leaders and staff were on site from 11am preparing the project, which included repainting the outside walls of the centre, creating murals and new signage and helping to revamp the food garden, which is used to grow vegetables that are used in meals for the children.

Service began at 2:30pm with over 200 community members, centre staff and the City Year team working to transform Ikusasa Lethu.

President Clinton and his daughter Chelsea arrived at 3pm and were welcomed at the entrance by City Year’s power greeters. Both he hand his daughter were presented with City Year jackets, which they wore for the duration of the event.

President Clinton went on a tour of Ikusasa Lethu, lead by Joey Monane, the project’s director. He stopped on numerous occasions to talk to children and Service Leaders he met along the way.

After spending almost an hour interacting with all the volunteers and watching the amazingly speedy progress they were making with their work, President Clinton joined everyone for a group photo.

After his departure, City Year and the rest of the volunteers completed the remaining work, ultimately completely painting the outsides of 4 buildings, painting ten murals and a new sign, and creating 10 vegetable beds – all in just under 2 hours!

All in all an amazing and inspirational day!