Champion spirit

Photography: Reg Caldecott and Wheelchair Tennis South Africa.

Disability is not getting in the way of this young star’s bright future.

One doesn’t have to be in sports for a decade before you can win awards and South African wheelchair tennis junior Nokwanda Hlongwane has proved just that. With only five years in the sport Hlongwane was named the LSEN School Female Athlete of the year at the 2015/16 Gauteng School Sport Awards at Birchwood Conference Centre in Boksburg, has reached a career best ranking of number two in the world and is showing all the signs of a champion in the making. On winning the award she said: “I am very delighted, I can’t even begin to express how I feel. I would like to thank everyone who has supported me through the tennis journey, not forgetting those who introduced me to the sport. When I took up wheelchair tennis I never thought I would be here today.”

Photography: Reg Caldecott and Wheelchair Tennis South Africa.The 15-year-old Hlongwane said she was fascinated by fellow athlete Kgothatso “KG” Montjane and told herself that if she could do it, there was possibly nothing to stop her. She played so hard in local tournaments that she won a bursary to study at Adelaide Tambo. “I told myself that I will never mope around, feeling sorry for myself. This award is the first of good things to come,” she said.

Hlongwane was diagnosed with a club foot, a disability that she vowed she’d never allow to keep her from what she loves. “I do not look at myself as a person with disability; I can do anything I put my mind to. I would like to advise my peers to make sure they study, get Grade 12 and then pursue whatever they want to,” she said.

Her career highlights include a three-week-tour in Sri Lanka. “Travelling the world and playing tennis has been fantastic and reaching second place globally has given me a huge boost going forward, but the ultimate highlight has to be lifting this award.”

*This article, by Thembisa Shologu, was published on the Gauteng Online website in March 2016.

Zain Bulbulia led the South African government delegation team to the United Nations (UN), New York, for the ratification and signing of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability. He is currently the acting head for gender, youth and disability in the planning commission of the Premier of Gauteng. email:

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