Luvo Manyonga: “Mommy I did it!”

It is two days after Luvo Manyonga came second place and won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics. The streets of Mbekweni have come alive as locals celebrate the pride of the Paarl community, carrying posters expressing their joy for Luvo’s achievement. A school band from Desmond Tutu Senior Secondary school, Luvo’s alma mater, is playing while locals dance through the streets.
Things were looking up for Team South Africa when Manyonga took the lead with his fourth attempt when he jumped 8.28m, and then when he bettered that to 8.37m with his fifth attempt.  The American Jeff Henderson took gold with his final effort of the night – an 8.38m effort.

“Luvo was never a long jumper, he was a high jumper and I convinced him to try out long jump because of his long legs”, said Nobenzeni Mini-Royi, a sports teacher at Desmond Tutu. Mini-Royi has been a sports teacher at the school for the past 19 years.  “I knew that he was destined for greatness when we were at Boland Athletics in Stellenbosch and when he insisted he wanted to jump even though he did not have a licence number as an athlete. We had to get him a temporary licence and he came second beating Khotso Mokoena”, said Mini-Royi. This according to Mini-Royi is where Manyonga met with his late coach Mario Smith.

Mbekweni residents and learners from Desmond Tutu celebrating Manyonga’s achievement. Photos: Sharon McKinnon

Drugs (tik/crystal methamphitemine)

The following year in 2010, Manyonga won a gold medal for under-19s at the IAAF Junior World Championships. “It was then that they tested him for drugs and he tried to evade the testing by saying that he was hungry but eventually they tested him”, said Mini-Royi with tears in her eyes. Manyonga tested positive for Tik. “It tore me apart because he was denying that he was on drugs but we tried everything to get him off drugs and I even asked him to come and stay with me but he would disappear on weekends and I would find him in Mbekweni”. Manyonga’s mother, Noyekanje, a domestic worker told Elitsha that at some point Luvo was suicidal. “He even went away and stayed in the bush for a while because of drugs but I kept speaking to him about the dangers of drugs”, said the 57-year old mother of three.

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Manyonga’s father, John has been unemployed for 15 years.

“I noticed that he was on drugs because he would sleep the whole day and he had red eyes and his elder brother was also on drugs”, said Noyekanje.

We met Sivuyile Manyonga at his parent’s house, a three roomed RDP house with an outside toilet in Phola Park. “I was a sprinter. My best for 100 metres is 10,5 seconds”, boasted the 32-year old. He told Elitsha that he also tried soccer and played for a development side of Santos in Cape Town and later Orlando Pirates. “The most common drugs here in Mbekweni are tik and cocaine, but my brother never used cocaine. I’m really happy for what he has achieved and its better for him to stay away from Mbekweni”, said Sivuyile who has been unemployed for two years now.  Luvo has been avoiding Mbekweni since last year March. “Ever since he went to circumcision school, he has not set his foot here and if that’s what it’s gonna take, then I’m fine with it”, said Noyekanje.

Lack of sport facilities

Broken cricket nets at Desmond Tutu High. Photo: Mzi Velapi.

Desmond Tutu High is one of  two secondary schools in Mbekweni, Paarl. There are no sports grounds at the schools and the only sports facility that Elitsha saw there were broken cricket nets. The school is a no fee-school, meaning that learners do not pay for school fees. However, according to Mini-Royi, they do have athletics equipment. Upon further enquiry it was clear that the equipment was donated by private companies and some are hand-downs from the Western Cape Sport School based in Kuils River. The school uses Mbekweni Stadium for athletics.

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Despite, the lack of sports facilities the school has produced Manyonga and according to Mini-Royi, “we all should be on the lookout for Junior Mpefu”. Mpefu is also a long and triple jumper. According to all-athletics.com Mpefu’s personal best is 7.22 for the long jump and 14.34 for triple jump.

Lack of support for athletics development

According to Mini-Royi, the area is rich with talent but poverty plays a big role in stifling development. “The issue of gangsterim and drugs also plays a role in destroying the talent”, said Mini-Royi. She also blames sponsors for not supporting sports development. “They do not want to do the hard work but only jump at the athletes when they have achieved”, said Mini-Royi.

According to Mini-Royi, she called Manyonga after the results were announced and Manyonga told her, “Yoh Mommy, I did it!”.

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