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A Special Olympics South Africa Tribute

11 Jul 2020

Dear Special Olympics Family,

On behalf of Dr. Mathews Phosa, it is with deep sadness that we have to inform you all of the passing of Mr Ephraim Mohlakane, Special Olympics South Africa board member, athlete leader, 2-time World Games medallist, husband, father, and friend.

There are no words for us to describe our pain upon learning of the death of our loved one.

Ephraim was born in Katlehong on the East Rand in South Africa. He never knew his father, who abandoned the family when Ephraim was little. He, his mother, and little brother are all intellectually disabled and life was very difficult for them, but Ephraim even then showed courage and determination. In an interview with the Humans of New York Ephraim described his journey as follows:

“It was a problem with my memory. I couldn’t remember things. Everyone else my age was moving forward, and I kept staying behind. My heart was very sore. I loved school. I wanted to be a doctor and a lawyer just like everyone else. I kept asking God: ‘Why is this happening to me?’ I tried my best. I even went to night school. But eventually, my teachers said they didn’t want to waste my time. They sent me to a school to learn handwork.

That’s where I learned about the Special Olympics. I was an angry young man back then. I could not accept my situation. But one day I met Arnold Schwarzenegger when he came to South Africa for an event. I told him my entire story, and he said: ‘Look here, I am the Terminator, but today I am your friend. Listen to me. You are not strong in academics, but that is just one thing. It’s nothing to worry about. You are a very strong man. You can’t hate yourself for the rest of your life. It is time for you to move on.

From that moment I began to accept myself!”

Ephraim began helping to support his family by working in the workshop at The Hamlet Foundation and it was here that he joined Special Olympics and became a skilled athlete, participating in athletics, five-a-side football, and floor hockey. Through Special Olympics, he started travelling the world from the age of 16 years old, representing South Africa when his talents on the sports field earned him a place on the Special Olympics South Africa World Games teams.

However, it was Ephraim’s leadership ability, which he developed in the Athlete Leadership Program, that really allowed him to excel and to take his place as a widely respected athlete leader in the movement both nationally and globally.

In 2002, Ephraim was chosen as a Global Messenger for Special Olympics representing the Africa region and then travelled the world representing the movement.
In Ireland at the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin, Ephraim was selected to introduce the former late President of South Africa, Mr Nelson Mandela, at the opening ceremony.
In 2005 Ephraim was elected by his fellow athletes to be the Chairperson of the Global Athlete Congress, a body representing all the athletes of the Special Olympics movement.
In 2007 Ephraim joined the Special Olympics South Africa board of directors where he remained until today as a pivotal member of the leadership of the programme which saw it grow into a national movement representing over 55 000 athletes in all 9 provinces.

Most recently Ephraim travelled to the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in the UAE to assist with the South African National Team and then to Dublin, Ireland to attend the Athlete Leadership Workshop.

Ephraim was employed as a full-time coach at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School where he coached basketball, soccer, floor hockey, and athletics. Ephraim was instrumental in developing the relationship between St Benedicts and Special Olympics and leaves a lasting legacy of inclusion at the school.

Ephraim leaves behind his beautiful wife Nobantu, his son Tumi, and their last born daughter Naledi. Ephraim was a devoted father and husband and was very proud of his children. Ephraim’s quote from the interview by Humans on New York demonstrates the deep love and pride he had for his children;

“I now have everything in life except for academics. I work hard. I have a house. I have a family. I have a career as a soccer coach. My son attends the same school where I work – and he is very smart. I make sure he does all his assignments. When he struggles I bring him to his teachers so they can lift him up. I tell him: Tumi, I never finished school. But God is amazing. He has made you strong where I am weak.“

We would like to send our deepest heartfelt condolences to the Mohlakane family, we will hold you all in our hearts and in our prayers.

Further information about the funeral and memorial service will be shared with you all by the Special Olympics South Africa national office.

Rest in Peace Mr. Ephraim Mohlakane, the legacy you have left behind will forever live on in the hearts of all those you have touched and in the opportunities that you have helped create for all the athletes that will follow you.

You are and will forever be missed. We love you!

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