Putting best feet forward

Thando Ndabezitha

BAY-BORN radio personality Lupi Ngcayisa has had a long relationship with shoes – and it is this relationship that landed him a spot in the top 12 of the Herald GM Citizen of the Year finals.

The founder of a campaign that has given new shoes to 103000 disadvantaged pupils across the country said his first full sentence, as a toddler forced to wear uncomfortable shoes to church, was Ziyanditya ezi zihlangu (These shoes are hurting my feet).

The Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk presenter, born in Port Elizabeth’s Walmer township, said he knew when he finished matric he would make a name for himself in media.

The idea of a school shoes campaign was born in 2008 after the then Metro FM breakfast show co-host watched a child squeal in delight as her parents bought her new school shoes at Woolworths in Sandton.

Ngcayisa had spent an hour observing the family as they shopped in upmarket clothing stores but had not seen the child show as much excitement as she did when she held her new school shoes.

“That is when I decided I wanted to duplicate that smile on the faces of disadvantaged South African children,” he said.

It was two days before his birthday. Ngcayisa decided he wanted to get 900 pairs of new school shoes to give away to needy pupils instead of getting gifts from his friends.

He went on air the next morning and made the announcement on Metro FM. “Instead of 900 I heard myself saying 9000. I was committed,” he said.

But by the end of January 2009 he had collected 16800 pairs of shoes.

From then, the number of shoes collected grew each year.

Ngcayisa’s friend, musician Sibongile Khumalo, describes him as compassionate.

“He grew up in an impoverished environment and is determined … that children must not suffer because of circumstances they had no choice over.”

A close friend, Vista Kalipa, agrees. “I saw him literally buy out all of the school shoes at a store, using his personal funds, when he was let down by a sponsor at the eleventh hour.”

Ngcayisa is determined to use the opportunities he has had to help others.

“It is through his enthusiasm that we are able to bring National Book Week to Nelson Mandela Bay next week,” author and national Arts and Culture Department head of books and publishing Siphiwo Mahala said.

Next year, Ngcayisa is making the school shoes campaign even bigger. The aim for next year is to go beyond school shoes to collect 90000 sets of uniforms, beanies, gloves, raincoats, tracksuits and – of course – shoes.

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