Many know her as the face of SABC’s sports coverage. But there’s more to Cynthia Tshaka that her flashy earrings and glossy smile.
She has a burning desire to make a difference in South Africa. And the country has Oprah to thank for her fervour. Having been inspired by the American talk show host, Tshaka set up the Sports Heroes Walk against Aids, which over the last four years has raised around R2,5 million for Aids orphans.

“What happened was that I was watching Oprah one day – I am a big fan – and the topic was ‘using your life to help other people’,” explained Tshaka. “That was right up my alley. But then I thought ‘what can I do because I’m not Bill Gates and I don’t have a lot of money.’ But Oprah was saying that you need to look at who you are and use that to make a difference in every day life.

“Then I realised I am fortunate to be in the position as a broadcaster where I rub shoulders with very influential people and I am in a position of influence. I could use the profile I have to influence this thing called Aids, which I didn’t even know very much about at the time.”

Tshaka thought of the idea of walking to raise money and then used her contacts in the sports world to include stars such as multiple world title holding boxer Baby Jake Matlala and Olympic gold medallist Josiah Thugwane. A nine-year project was launched in 2002 with the idea of walking from Gauteng to each of the country’s nine provinces, raising money and also educating people along the way with regards to HIV-Aids.

“The whole idea is to use sport to change lives which is in line with the philosophy of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation for which I am an ambassador in South Africa,” explained Tshaka. “I am just so grateful for the support that I have been given, especially from Gwen Ramakgopa who gave money towards the project because a lot of people have loved the concept but haven’t put money behind it.

“It’s all in line with what president Mbeki has said about normal South Africans coming up with projects to work with government to help communities.”

This year will see the team of Tshaka, Matlala, Willie Mtolo (South African marathon runner), Khaya Malotana (former Springbok), Desree Ellis (former South African women’s soccer team captain), Arturu Ballosini (world karate champion), Daleen Terblanche (South African women’s cricket team member) and Lihlohonolo Ledwaba (four-time boxing world champion) walking the 384km from Tshwane to Mafikeng in the North West, starting at the end of November and reaching their destination on December 1 – World Aids Day.

Each year brings with it more sponsors and this year even deputy president Pumzile Mlambo Ngcuka has pledged her support, also promising to walk part of the way with the team. The main aim, along with conducting sports clinics en route and raising awareness, is to raise as much money as possible, which will be donated to Aids charities.

“What is amazing is the amount of work that we have been able to do. This is our fifth year. We have managed to help so many homes and in the process we have made many friends and been able to deal with the stigma around HIV-Aids.

“It is so pleasing to know that we are changing people’s lives. This is a nine-year project and we will keep updating our message as we go along. We have recently started doing sports clinics along the way which is something we didn’t start out doing and that draws so many kids who then ask us questions and get the information about prevention of Aids.

“We have raised about R2,5 million and every year more donors want to come on board. We are hoping to get close to R1million this year.”

While she is doing her bit, Tshaka believes it is everyone in the country’s responsibility to make a difference in the lives of others, no matter how insignificant their efforts might seem.

“Someone like Baby Jake is mobbed by the public wherever he goes,” she explained. “And you have to utilise that and use it in a positive manner. You have to use your celebrity status to give back to the community.

“Each and every individual is responsible to give something back but that responsibility is doubled if you’re a national sports hero because then you are a symbol of perseverance and triumph and determination and that gives you the platform to make a difference.” – Heartlines Features

By Karien Jonckheere

Written by Heartlines

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