Working for social change in the police force, workers’ unions and church

Garth considered his childhood growing up in Wentworth, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), to be fairly privileged. His parents afforded him and his sister a free-standing home, whereas most of his neighbours lived in flats.

In school he was a top achiever. He wanted to take up home economics because he loved baking, and still creates some beautiful confectionery today. Unfortunately, for a male to be in Home Economics was frowned upon by his school principal. “My mom and I were very close. My fondest memory is when she came home from work expecting me to have just chopped the vegetables but instead I had cooked a full dinner,” he says. After school, he studied mechanical engineering, which he didn’t really enjoy. He went on to join the police force, with a desire to bring change and address the racial injustices of South Africa.

“I had experienced segregated beaches and was almost arrested several times. I joined the police force hoping I could make a difference but realised it was impossible, so I asked my aunt if I could live with her in the US,” he says.

“The US was incredible, I lived like there was no tomorrow. It was
completely different to SA and I emerged myself in the culture, I didn’t
experience oppression and I felt completely free.”

Union work

But a year into his stay, international news reports of civil unrest in SA prompted him to make plans to return to SA and rejoin the police force. He also joined the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) and served as a cluster secretary.

“I wanted to be vocal and had a passion to fight for the rights of our people, but when the union started making political decisions that affected the workers rights, I decided to leave.” Garth then took up a position in the Department of Development Management of the Local Municipality as an Enforcement Officer, and soon progressed to Senior Enforcement Officer.

In 2005 he completed a diploma in General Management and then started a business providing personal protective equipment, which boomed in 2010 during the FIFA Soccer World Cup.

Journey through grief

“In 2012 my dad died and my world came to a halt. I suffered depression and lost everything. I couldn’t motivate myself anymore, I lost my home, car, business and almost lost my marriage. I hit rock bottom,” he says.

At the time he was a member of Grace Family Church and received counselling, saw a life coach and took up the opportunity to work as a volunteer.

“I started picking up the pieces of my life and assumed a full time position in the churches’ Mission and Justice Department.”

Garth came across Heartlines at the Global Leadership Summit in 2016, where he saw some of the resources. “I was intrigued by the work Heartlines was doing and took a very strong interest in the What’s Your Story? programme,” he says.

Heartlines Champion

This year, Garth joined Heartlines as a Champion on all their projects and has successfully run several What's Your Story? events during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“I love stories, I love hearing people’s stories. I have enjoyed getting people to watch the film Beyond the Riverand seeing how their mindsets shift afterwards,” he adds. 

Grace Family Church runs a non-profit organization called Grace Aid which Garth believes is the perfect vehicle to carry the message of the Fathers Matter programme into communities in KZN.

“I would like to return to Wentworth where I grew up because young men there are faced with issues of drug abuse and gangsterism. I think the Fathers Matter resources are exactly what churches and communities need to address such issues,” he says.

“The name Heartlines is very significant for me because it talks about our heartbeat. The resources are exactly what our society needs to bring about significant change.”

Garth says Heartlines’ work has re-ignited his passion for justice.

“It’s the reason why I became a police officer and a unionist,” he says. “It’s about bringing change which is something I have always desired to see happen in our country.”