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Qaphelani Dlamini is shooting for the stars from his wheelchair

8 May 2020

Everyone out there who is willing to join a sport, or specifically wheelchair basketball, it is never too late to start

Qaphelani Dlamini (33) has been using a wheelchair since he was five years old. However, this condition did not deter the headstrong, determined man from pursuing his dreams and reaching his full potential. Mr Dlamini shares his journey with us.

Where did you grow up and attend school?
My home village is Enyezane location in Loskop. I attended primary school at KwaZamokuhle Special School and completed my secondary education at the nearby Amahlubi High School. My tertiary education was at the University of Zululand, where I obtained a Bachelor of Education degree (2009-2012), a Bachelor of Education Honours degree and a Master’s in Education degree at the University of South Africa.

Qaphelani with his mentor is Dr Douglas Garner from University of Texas in Arlington.

What is the reason you use a wheelchair?
At the age of five, I was very sick and went to hospital, where I was diagnosed with Spina Bifida. Since then, I have used a wheelchair to move around.

What sparked your interest in basketball?
I grew up loving soccer and until now, I am a die-hard supporter of Kaizer Chiefs. However, because of my disability and the area I grew up in, I had to contend with hardships and limitations. Because of the deep-rooted stigma and barriers, most prefer to stay isolated, which adds more suffering. Some might go into depression, while others tend to commit suicide. When Miss Zenzile Nhanchengo and the late Mr BAF Radebe introduced me to wheelchair basketball in year 2003, forming the first under 23 KwaZulu-Natal Wheelchair Basketball team, I just fell in love with the sport. This was my chance to prove that people with disabilities are equally capable of performing the things people without disabilities can do. If they are able to realise their potential, then it could be a stimulus for them to live an independent and successful life.

Qaphelani with Jessley Bennet from Nicaragua who was also a nominee of a global award.

How did you start playing?
I started playing in 2004. We were the first under 23 provincial team, playing for the first team. We hosted the Province of National Schools Games, where unfortunately we lost all our games that year. I don’t forget because it was published in the Isolezwe. But in 2005, we were the champions.

What were some of the challenges you initially experienced playing the sport?
In our society, people with disabilities are treated as weak, inefficient and dependent people. People tend to think they cannot do anything by themselves and must rely upon others forever to conduct the activities of daily living. In this context, sport played a crucial role in my life in breaking the negative social attitudes and beliefs in terms of dependence upon others. Sport, in fact, is very good therapy for individuals with disabilities, helping to improve our muscular and physical strength. There is evidence that people tend to be less stressed if they are involved in sporting activities.

Are you affiliated to any organisation or club?
I am currently a Provincial Sports Convener, Wheelchair Provincial Basketball Convener for Disabled People Sports, and a player and coach of Estcourt Tigers.

Name some of the tournaments you have participated in?
National Schools Championships, Vodacom Challenge, Senior National Championships, Provincial League Games and the Disabled People Sports Games.

Qaphelani Dlamini with Dr Sarah Hillyer from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

What are some of the highlights in your basketball career?
The very first great thing to happen was in 2005 when we won the tournament. In 2004, we lost all our games and the following year, we won all our games. In 2006, I was voted as the team captain and in that Vodacom Challenge tournament, I was the most valuable player and selected for the national under 23 team. The greatest of all times was when I was nominated for the Global Sport Award in 2019 and I went to the United Sates of America to receive the award. In January 2020, I was nominated by the United States of America Department of State as the best Exemplary Alumni and I was invited to Texas, but unfortunately due to Covid-19, I had to cancel my Visa.

What are some of the common misconceptions about people in wheelchairs playing sport?
Wheelchair basketball helps a person to keep physically as well as mentally fit and on the other hand, it gives a very strong and positive impression to society regarding our ability and capability. This in turn helps to change their mindset towards people with disabilities. Therefore, involving people with disabilities in wheelchair basketball will enable them to stay active, healthy and motivate them to live and explore their potential.

What advice would you give to people out there who are also physically disabled but would like to start playing a sport?
Persons with disabilities can play different types of games, as others do, but our society is still unaware of it. So there is a need to raise awareness among people and prove to them that disability sports are also possible. Sport is a very effective tool to raise awareness in the community. Everyone out there who is willing to join a sport, or specifically wheelchair basketball, it is never too late to start. By doing so, your health will improve and don’t forget that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind.

By Ronelle Mungaroo

Eastcourt News

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