Up-Close … with …-Jaffa Ally, once the power behind Special Olympics Africa


Jaffa Ally

He got to meet quite a few celebrities, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr Universe and Mayor of California and also Nelson Mandela, the iconic former President of South Africa who had spent 26 years in jail, part of it on Robben Island, off Cape Town.

Jaffa grew up at Grand Anse, Praslin in a family where he was the sole child - very unusual for those days, was schooled at St Mathew’s primary school and joined the Boy Scouts. He was bright enough to pass the entrance exam to gain entry to Seychelles College, which is where our paths crossed.

He remained until passing his O-levels, whereupon he returned to Praslin to take up a teaching post. But that did not interest him much and after a year, he was back on Mahe, joining the police force.

Jaffa recalls today how this was to mould his character for future years. There was a lot of challenges.

“One had to show respect and earn respect,” he recalls.
In addition there were several sporting opportunities, including football and volleyball.

Jaffa spent six years with the force, rising to the rank of sergeant, getting more interested in crime prevention than the punitive side of policing.

It was not long that the “preventive beat” which he was trying to instill in some other officers got known outside the force. He was approached by John Prosper, a senior probation officer, and got more involved into the social aspects of rehabilitation of offenders, which he found more fulfilling.

It struck him that many of those persistent offenders came from broken families and often Jaffa in Terminator 2 Jacket, before it was auctioned in South Africa to raise funds for Special Olympics Africa  had nobody to offer them any moral support. He considered it his mission to help them in any way he could.

For the next six years, Jaffa was busy carrying out social investigations and rehabilitating offenders.

In a way this opened up the human resources (HR) avenue for Jaffa as he got a better understanding of people.

So it was that in 1991 he was recruited by Cable & Wireless, then the only telecom company, as their HR manager. Sometime later, he was sent to the Ashridge Management College in UK for advanced studies. He was accepted as a member of the Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD).

It was Jaffa’s humane character and his constant yearning to help others less fortunate that undoubtedly got Jaffa involved in the Special Olympics Movement.

“Bringing joy and happiness to the faces of the physically handicapped meant a lot to me.
I reckon that the caring for the weaker ones could have stemmed from younger days, when I was still a Boy Scout,” he says. 

In any case, Jaffa moved in initially as coach, soon rising to the post of chairman and eventually national director.

“Working with the disabled is a special field where one needs special attributes,” he says.
“The reward is to see them advance in life, get recognised and be accepted by the community.”

He says the achievement and reward is when they take part, excel and win gold medals. This sparks off a very special passion.”

In 2002, Jaffa was instrumental in organising for a group of 52 disabled athletes to take part in the World Special Olympics which was to be held in North Carolina, USA. He had the challenging task of raising over R1 million to pay for airfares and accommodation. In addition, many of the special athletes came from rather poor families and had to be helped with proper sets of clothing, shoes and luggage.

“We did not want anyone to look down on our Seychellois athletes,” he remarked. 

He tried to obtain six months’ sabbatical leave to devote himself to the mission. But this was turned down by Cable & Wireless, as it is not company policy to do so, prompting Jaffa to resign.
I had heard the story somehow before, but let Jaffa pursue his account.
“But then, I did not go. The main reason was to allow the entire contingent to go to North Carolina. They were all so excited.”

At that point, I told him I had heard Vice-President Danny Faure become aware of his dedication and self-sacrifice and was very touched.

He let out a smile and went on: “Meeting them at the airport, with some of them showing off their medals, was a great source of joy.  I felt it was good enough as reward.”

Soon after that, Jaffa was appointed director for Special Olympics International for Sub-Saharan Africa, taking over from Catherine Clark, who was moving back to the USA.

There are many interesting but mostly sad anecdotes of his interventions vis-à-vis some African leaders to solicit assistance for the disabled and weak.

One time, he was told that the epileptic could not be helped, simply “because they are not productive”.

It was also around that time that he met Mr Universe and Governor of California, Arnold Shwarzenegger, and together, they crossed over to Robben Island to light the Special Olympics flame. He also met the legendary South African leader, Nelson Mandela, who had for many years been incarcerated on Robben Island, where he spent most his time breaking rocks under a merciless sun. 

On the way to Robben Island, with Arnold Schwarzenegger to light the Special Olympics Flame of Hope

There are also the harrowing adventures, some of the close shaves with death, such as the ride on the roof of a mini-bus from Burkina Faso to Ghana, which he had to endure from 4pm to 7am. All throughout, he had to cling to a strip of metal for dear life, as a relaxing of the grip could mean a fall and certain death.

Another was standing on one of the west African flights, from Yaoundé, Cameroon to Lagos, Nigeria, a predicament he shared with about a third of the passengers. Since most of those standing were at the back, the plane landed with a shocking bang, which sounded like an explosion.

Clearing immigration, Jaffa was approached by the pilot, who guessed that he was not from continental Africa. “That really was close, wasn’t it?” he said.


By John Lablache

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