I have benefitted enormously from my chance and am determined to give back to others” – Lutho Thomas

Our success story that cannot be disregarded is that of Mr. Lutho Thomas. When given the opportunity, the dusty streets of the Eastern Cape’s townships are proving to be a rich source of talented people; such as Siya Molisi, Springbok Rugby Captain. But also, for lesser known individuals like Lutho Thomas – the past recipient of the first Community Property Fund bursary at Lawhill Maritime Centre in Simon’s Town.

And like Siya, the return on investment in Lutho has been incredible. It was Nolita Mbana, his Grade 9 teacher at Molly Blackburn Secondary School, who saw Lutho’s potential and pointed out the newly-established bursary. However, it’s not an easy path to tread in your teens – leaving home and everything that’s familiar and moving hundreds of kilometres away, not knowing anyone.

‘When he arrived, he was among the quietest and least confident of the new intake,’ says Debbie Owen, Head of the Lawhill Maritime Centre, one of the institutions hosting other Rialto Project bursary recipients.

‘It was clear he preferred to stay below the radar and spend most of his time on his own. Our initial conversations were awkward, but the Lawhill team continued to engage with him, showing him how much we cared for and believed in him. Slowly but surely his confidence emerged.’

Once accustomed to his new surroundings, Lutho flourished. It was on the sporting front where he quickly established his credentials: After joining the rowing club in his second term, he was appointed team captain by the end of the year. Cycling and sailing followed shortly thereafter with him captaining both disciplines.
‘Lutho became the go-to guy, the person educators could rely on and be the first to put up his hand when volunteers were called for. His school career reached its pinnacle when he was appointed head boy in his matric year,’ adds Debbie.

‘KwaZakhele where I grew up was not that far from the sea, but my exposure was purely recreational,’ said Lutho. ‘Lawhill had its own language, I really found the maritime jargon confusing. After a slow start, I thoroughly enjoyed being responsible for myself in the boarding environment. There were so many opportunities right on my doorstep; I only had to grasp them.’

Leaving school has been the end of the first chapter of what looks to be a promising career for Lutho. Lawhill’s specialisation in the maritime sector opened doors in that same industry. He is currently enrolled in a learnership programme with Maersk, the largest container ship and supply vessel operator in the world.
His Maersk assignment sees him working at a container consolidation depot in Cape Town, but he anticipates that there will be rotations with other disciplines of the business during the 12-month stint. Lutho sees other opportunities arising from this experience.

A recipient of the bursary has instilled a sense of duty and paying it forward: ‘I have benefitted enormously from my chance and I am determined to give back to others,’ says Lutho. ‘It was my business mentor Gino del Fava who impressed upon me that the values of passion and hard work will bring you success.’

‘South Africa has a coastline of more than 2 800 kilometres, yet there are few opportunities for people from disadvantaged communities to benefit from the potential of the sea. My long-term goal is to create a sailing academy in the Eastern Cape, where we can train youngsters how to use those skills and secure employment.’

‘I was not naturally drawn to the sea, but it was the amazing work of Linsay Oberholzer, sailing manager at False Bay Yacht Club, that allayed my fears of the ocean.’ ‘At first Lutho was apprehensive about sailing,’ says Linsay. ‘However, after a few sessions in the classroom and on the water, he grew an appreciation for the sport. It wasn’t long before he went to great efforts to be at the club whenever he could. His confidence grew and members called on him to crew on various boats. He’s quickly developed into a great asset to the sailing fraternity.’

‘Going to Lawhill opened my eyes to a world I knew nothing of – sport and business. Sailing has created opportunities for me to travel, and I am working towards participating in the 2024 Paris Olympics. I am also working towards my Certificate of Competency for super yachts that will enable me to captain vessels. My recreation and working life are firmly products of the amazing opportunity I had to attend Lawhill,’ concludes Lutho.