Stories Of Hope



Buja was 22 years old when he began a 10-year sentence for a serious crime. He was selected to join the Ambassadors Hope Academy Drakenstein Squad in 2011. Getting to know God as his Father and experiencing genuine love displayed through the lives of the coaches, he began to make significant changes to how he lives his life. Since his release in 2013 Buja has been volunteering with Ambassadors Football South Africa. He is an amazing young coach and has an immense willingness to serve, to learn and to grow. He coaches football at schools and impacts the youth through being a father figure to them. We continue to invest in him weekly and he is growing on all levels.


Simphiwe Mitigane


Hope Academy first started running trials to select prisoners for the new Academy in Drakenstein Prison in January 2008. During this time Simphiwe was locked in isolation for violently stabbing two other inmates. Simphiwe was an active member of the ‘28’ gang and had a violent history. However, he also had a love for football. Whilst the trials were taking place, Simphiwe begged the wardens to allow him to attend and trial for the Academy. One warden had pity on him and took him to the field. Once the Hope Academy coaches saw his talent they decided to give Simphiwe a chance. The Academy took a risk, shared God’s love with him, and invested in his life. One day in the Academy cell he decided to leave the gang and embrace a dramatically different way of life. Simphiwe’s life was changed and he has subsequently become a strong role model for other Prisoners. Since being released he has become a motivational speaker for youth in poor communities, sharing his story and the message of hope which changed him forever.


Thulani Gantso

We first met Thulani in 2009 during trials at Pollsmoor Prison. Thulani showed a strong desire to attend the Academy. As part of our recruitment we interview the wardens to discuss behavior and gang activity of Academy prospects. One warden said we shouldn’t even consider him because he was evil and a high-ranking ‘28’, so we didn’t! Much to our surprise Thulani arrived at Drakenstein at the beginning of the 2010 season, even though he was not selected. However, as time progressed we began to see that Thulani was a special young man. We learnt later that the warden in Pollsmoor lied about his gang rank as Thulani was a top member in the prison band and they did not want to lose him. This ‘intervention’ has been significant for Thulani and the Academy. He has made significant changes to his life, has been appointed Captain of the Hope Academy, and is studying Theology. We are also committed to putting him through a Human Resource management course in 2012. Thulani is already a role model to other inmates and we trust will become a great role model and father to his son.


Sinethemba Gwabe

We first met Sne in Pollsmoor Prison in 2007. Sne was transferred to our section with three other inmates – all of them self-professed ‘28’ gang members. As a result they were all immediately in trouble for bad behaviour. Sne approached us one day with a desire to change and be involved in Hope Academy. We accepted him and he left the gang much to the anger and threats of the other gang members. Over time Sne began to make significant changes to his outlook on life and this was reflected in a positive change in his character. He was released on bail in 2007 and over two years set up a holistic football Academy in his community in Khayelitsha. Sadly Sne was placed back in prison as his bail ran out and his legal representation did not follow up his case. Hope Academy tracked him down in an adult section in Pollsmoor. He was subsequently transferred to Drakenstein where he now is one of our coaches and a great role model to the other inmates in the Academy. Hope Academy set him up for a correspondence course in Theology and he scored 78% on his last assignment!


Abongile Sodlaka

Abongile first joined the Hope Academy program in Drakenstein Youth Prison in 2008. Abongile was a ’26’ gang member and initially joined the Academy because of regular football training. During life-skills training he would often argue against some of the points made by the coaches. However, over time Abongile’s heart softened. Eventually he publically rejected his old life in the gang (a decision that put him in personal danger) and embraced a more positive way of life. Abongile was released from prison in March 2010. Since his release, Hope Academy coaches followed up on his journey – he is envolved in the local church and the Academy has funded his development through an electrical engineering course. Abongile is now a role model and leader in his community. He has a strong desire to share the lessons of his life with youth in townships. He wants to open his own business in the future.


Chris Ntese

We first met Chris when we were running football programmes in Pollsmoor Prison in 2003. Chris was awaiting trial. When he was eventually sentenced in 2004 he was moved to Drakenstein. In 2009 he was accepted into the Academy. Chris always stood out as a leader and a young man with considerable potential. He excelled in the Academy and during this time studied for a business diploma through Intec. Chris was released in 2010 and immediately got a job at Kentucky Fried Chicken. The manager of KFC was so impressed by his discipline and attitude that she approached Hope Academy for more young men who “were just like Chris”. This led to another member of Hope Academy getting a job at KFC. Recently the manager left the store and recommended Chris for the position. Chris will take his exams in January and plans to use this position to help other boys in the Academy once released.


Melikhaya Nobongoza

Melikhaya (Meza) was one of the first players who were recruited for the Academy in 2008. ‘Meza’ was an active ‘26’ gang member but had a desire to leave the gang and do something positive with his life. He was always conscious of wanting to be a good father and role model to his son once released. He knew this would mean leaving the gang, leaving crime and learning not only about football but also about the other aspects of the Academy. ‘Meza’ was the first Academy Captain and was well-liked by the other players. He often spoke boldly if players in the team were behaving negatively. ‘Meza’ was released in 2009 and started working at McDonalds to provide income for his son and mother. Hope Academy often runs community events and he is always willing to take time off work and give back to his community. He also regularly visits the prison to encourage the new Academy members and motivate them to change and live better lives.


Leon Jonas

Mr Jonas was appointed by Drakenstein prison management as the warden to work alongside Hope Academy in 2008. Mr Jonas was part of the Drakenstein Prison Football Association and had a hunger and desire to work with inmates through sport. Our staff immediately saw the heart and desire of Mr Jonas and his clear passion to see these young men impacted and changed. He was willing to learn, was humble and was very excited about working within the Hope Academy program. Through his own involvement in the Academy Mr Jonas has made significant changes in his own life which have positively influenced his family and the inmates in the Academy. He has grown significantly as a leader through his involvement. Mr Jonas has been trained in the Academy system and is now able to coach football and life skills. His professional and character development have been an encouragement to all involved in Hope Academy.


John Khakaza

John was one of the worst behaved inmates when we first met him in Pollsmoor. He had previously roamed the streets, could not speak English, had a hygiene problem, and no mother or father or home he could go to. John came to the Academy but was removed on numerous occasions because of his bad behaviour. Our coaches had lost patience with John, but as he approached us some time later there seemed to be a difference in his attitude. He showed real remorse and a desire to change the direction of his life. John came back to the Academy and the change in him was dramatic. He stopped smoking, stopped fighting and began to develop the character of a great leader. John never got visits in prison. The Academy tried to locate his family and after searching the townships we found his sister who thought that John had died. Since John was released he has got a job as an electrician, he has married, and is a senior leader in his Church.