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Nemato, born of true friendship

Date Released: Wed, 13 February 2013 15:03 +0200

A FRIENDSHIP between two men which began in Amsterdam, Holland about 16 years ago and had nothing to do with rowing culminated in the formation of the Nemato Rowing Club on the banks of the Kowie River in Port Alfred.

It became one of the first transformation rowing clubs in the country under the auspices of Rowing South Africa. Today the Nemato Rowing Club boasts a membership of 25 youngsters, owns five sculls, two doubles and shares with Rhodes University two fours and an eight.

The head coach now is 26-year-old Chuma Myendwana, a foundation member of the club. But let me take you back to the beginning.

In 1997 Jan Blom, a young Hollander living in Amsterdam met Vuyo Matinyana, a young black musician of roughly the same age who had gone across to absorb the culture and music of Europe, share his Xhosa music and tell of his home country to his new-found friends.

He came from a poor and dusty settlement in Port Alfred now known as the Nelson Mandela Township, and it is from here that the name Nemato derives - the first two letters of each word. The two men became friends and it wasn't long before Blom, at the invitation of his South African friend, made his first trip to Port Alfred.

They returned to Holland and were inseparable for the next four years, until Matinyana became ill and died.

Blom remained in Holland for a year before he succumbed to the call of Africa and emigrated. He was heartily welcomed by Matinyana's family in the Port Alfred township where he has lived ever since.

As an experienced oarsman, Jan Blom learned that Rhodes University frequently used the Kowie River for practices and regattas and had attempted to kindle an interest in the sport in the townships - an initiative that failed for lack of funding. Blom immediately formed fundraising groups and Rhodes successfully applied for Lotto funding.

The outcome was that eight boats and a coaching craft were purchased to be used by the university, St Andrews College and Blom's newlyformed Nemato club, members of which were recruited from Port Alfred township schools and the local high school.

Blom's task now was to instill in his young pupils respect for the water and swimming and boating skills. Rowing SA took an active interest in the fledgling club and now provides the necessary organisational support.

Blom has since handed over the rowing duties and coaching to Myendwana but still runs a fatherly eye over proceedings and has expanded his youth development projects to include pursuits like gymnastics, fencing, handball and life skills in general. From little acorns, they say, grow mighty oak trees.

MORE THE MERRIER: The Nemato Rowing Club from the townships of Port Alfred was one of the first transformation rowing clubs in South Africa and now consists of 25 members

Pictures supplied

By Charles Beningfield

Source: Daily Dispatch

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