How former drug addict Riyaad Avontuur inspired Bonteheuwel to do better

In a community plagued by drug abuse, gangsterism and unemployment, Riyaad Avontuur started an athletics club and outdoor gym. His impact on people's lives have been big.

Riyaad Avontuur (front row, third from right) has survived trauma and years of substance abuse and now works to make a change in his community. Picture: Supplied

CAPE TOWN – A former drug addict from Bonteheuwel is taking back his community from drug sellers, gangsters and other criminals, one exercise at a time.

Riyaad Avontuur started the Bonteheuwel Central Athletics Club to assist his community. It consists of an athletics gym and an outdoor fitness centre. His message: it’s never too late to turn things around.

Having survived trauma and years of substance abuse, Avontuur decided to pay it forward and make a change in his community. While it wasn’t always easy, the encouragement, work and support from his community made all worth it, he said.

Cape Town is notoriously known for drug abuse, high unemployment statistics and gangsterism, which has become the norm for so many young people - in some cases children as young as 10 years old.

Two years ago, Avontuur started the athletics club in the heart of Bonteheuwel as his way of getting children off the streets and avoid being recruited by gangsters. Fast forward to 2021 in the midst of a pandemic, and Avontuur wanted to do more. So he decided to expand with an outdoor fitness centre. With no registration or membership fees, he relied on his community’s support and love for people. Eyewitness News asked him why he took on such a big task.

"I set a goal for myself that I want to stand for Bonteheuwel, you understand? I don’t want to be the mayor, I don’t want to be the councillor. I just want to be the guy that’s doing fitness in Bonteheuwel. People have to come out and see that Bonteheuwel also has a positive side.”

Avontuur said that he started his venture to help people with their fitness and to bring everyone together. Gender-based violence is one of the social issues the area has to contend with. He said that having the outdoor gym was an escape for so many survivors of gender-based violence and abuse.

“There [are] people that maybe come from a bad space in their houses. I have some of [those] people in the club, they spoke to me. They get abused, verbally abused, so now the hour [of exercise] every night helps them to come out of the house to a positive thing like athletics, you understand, and fitness.”

There is a spark in his voice and joy oozes from him every time he talks about the club and fitness outdoor centre. But it wasn’t always easy for him. For years he battled substance abuse and no one knew that he fell into that trap, something all too familiar for many people living in Bonteheuwel.

“Like myself, when I used to do drugs, most of the people I know, I used to go in their houses, go smoke in their houses - never robbed people, manipulated people. They didn’t know I was on drugs. Everybody trusted me.”

He said the centre's launch was a dream come true for him. Many members in the club are social grant beneficiaries. Avontuur said that seeing their fitness transformations and was a reminder that everyone could make a difference. Even though the club was in need of funding and sponsorships, it would not ask for memberships fees at this stage out of fear that people may stay away.

Club member Delene Oosterwiyk told Eyewitness News that being part of the club had helped her a lot.

"Being part of this group and being part of this project has given me the ability to restore my health, a good mindset and being able to reclaim Bonteheuwel for our youth, and the fact that athletics is being brought back into our community."

Another member, Dominique Fredricks, praised Avontuur for helping his community.

“Our coach’s love and passion for people and children - to get the kids off the streets, off drugs and out of gangs and changing lives. This group has really changed lives forever. This project is doing amazing work in our community.”

Avontuur said that his dream was to open various clubs in the community, by the community.

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