From Online Classes to Community-Based Workouts: The Birth of AK Fitness

Author: Mandy Mbekeni
Photos: Matthew Wareley

Langa is a township centered around creativity and community. It was established in 1927 and is one of the oldest townships in South Africa. With such a turbulent and ‘vibrant’ history, it is no surprise that some of the world’s most respected, acclaimed, and powerfully resilient movers and shakers come from there.

Over the years, Langa has bred plenty of artistic talent, including the inimitable Brenda Fassie, the Queen of South African Pop, who sadly passed away in 2014. The place is a creative hub – with a 100-year social and political history – with notable attractions such as 16 on Lerotholi and Guga S’thebe. But we cannot speak about these hubs without mentioning the most unmistakable building on Bhunga Avenue – the Langa Sports Complex. Personally, the Langa Sports Complex symbolizes some form of resolution for me.

When I lived there, kids found the building a place of creative sanctuary, entertainment, and more. It is no wonder that years later, as I chat with Ayanda Khahla, who now uses the space under AK Fitness, has also welcomed it as a home for his community-based workouts.

Khahla is 36 years old and a provincial fitness instructor. He sounds remarkably familiar to my male cousins in how he speaks and switches between IsiXhosa and English in our conversation. I welcome this familiarity without recklessness. “AK Fitness came to life during the lockdown. I studied Sports Management at CPUT in Cape Town and worked as a student assistant there,” he says. “I was doing online classes over social media, and the idea was to make fitness fun. I don’t think there’s any sport I didn’t play as a child, and with that, fitness came easily to me because that’s what I’ve always been.”

What comes of the question of integrating fitness into a Black township where access to gyms is not necessarily easy? “Initially, the gym sessions happened online, and as I said, during lockdown. With that, there was a demand in people who wanted to exercise, but of course, that is hard when there is no equipment or easy access to such facilities.

Consequently, I realized there was a huge gap between access and interest. Additionally, there is this misconception that when you exercise, you are most likely to look like a bodybuilder, which is not entirely true,” Khahla mentions. “I wanted to break that misconception apart and reimagine the idea of exercise as a way of life that can be fun and collaborate specifically with the individual’s body weight and needs.” And that was the birth of AK Fitness as a business and a Langa community-based business.

AK Fitness is active in two locations in Cape Town, with sessions held in Eerste River and Langa. Ayanda, amusingly cannot be in two places at once. “I have five instructors that I work with. When I cannot be at the other location, the sessions continue normally with one of the instructors running them. When there is a big event like we had with ikeja, only then can we all be in one location and run the sessions between us.” When we talk about access to fitness classes, we must factor in the monetary aspect of it. “I do not get paid for the sessions I run. I market them through posters or our WhatsApp group, and people show up.

Not until recently did a few people volunteer to chip in some money towards the business, but it is not necessarily obligatory. Again, I would not want people not to show up because money hindered their fitness.