Growing up my dream was to become a professional soccer player. I started playing soccer from a very young age on the streets of Hambanathi township, in the North Coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal. The only thing I wanted to do was to play soccer and represent my country at international competitions. I will never forget the year 1994 and at the tender age of 6 while playing soccer at the local football stadium, near the sugar cane factory, tragedy struck. One dreadful day in an attempt to recover a soccer ball we had been playing with, I found myself stuck in a swamp of hot ash, till this day I cannot explain the surreal circumstances that were materializing before my eyes. Overwhelming feelings of disbelief and shock, there are no words to comprehend what I felt on that day. Funny enough, I was not feeling any physical pain at that moment, all I could hear was hysterical sounds from individuals within the vicinity of the incident.

The next thing I remember was being carried by a group of men into a vehicle and rushed to the hospital, I have never seen my mother cry so much before. Wittingly or Unwittingly than reality struck, I started to feel excruciating pain on my feet and to my dismay, when I took a peek at my feet, all I could see was skin peeling out faster than a speeding bullet. I thought I was going to see my bones, my whole world was falling apart, my mother’s frantic crying was not helping at all, then I realized the painful reality, I was burnt by hot ash, mixed with dumped chemicals from the sugar cane factory next to the unfenced sports field.

I remember being in hospital, my parents and teachers would bring me school work to complete while in a hospital bed. I am so grateful to them for that because they understood the fundamental principle that though my feet were burnt, my brain was not damaged and the only thing that would distract me from my painful misery was a sound education.

After being discharged from hospital, one had to face other challenges and stereotypes, there would be those people who would genuinely feel sorry for me and others who would mock me. At that point in time I was in primary school, school kids can be nasty and cruel, if you know what I mean, there were those who teased me and called me names. Some of the nick names I was given were“KFC”, “Chicken Licken” and “Mapheki Nyawo (Roast Feet)” I must be honest at that time it was so painful for me emotionally, it was a huge set back, because my self-esteem and confidence was at a “junk status”.

I remember while still in primary school, I hated the subject Physical Education (PE). I did not hate the subject because of the teacher and content, however I hated it because we had to wear shorts. Till this day I dislike shorts because at that time it meant I had to expose my feet and other mean kids would make me a laughing stock.

Fast forward to 30 years later, having had a supportive family helped me cope with all the tragedies and struggles I faced growing up. Being raised by God fearing parents, who prayed for me was what gave my life a sense of purpose.

My purpose in life is to inspire greatness and change people’s lives. If I chose to be bitter and angry I wouldn’t be fulfilling my purpose in life. So many people are filled with anger because of the things which have happened to them. Truth is you will never fulfill your purpose and receive your blessings in life if you allow yourself to be held back by your circumstances.

In conclusion, I think it would be befitting that I share a quote from Mr. Musa E Zulu, who is a World Class Author, Artist and Motivational speaker that I respect and look up too, as a matter of fact, I am currently reading his book titled: WHEELS ON THE SOUL OF MY SHOES.

“Think about it, I’m young, I’m Black, I’m free, I’m possible, I’m diverse, I’m open, I’m smart, I’m an African and I’m possible!”


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About the Writer:

Nhlanhla Mhlongo is open-minded, friendly, crazy and down to earth person. He loves to work hard and also enjoys life to the fullest. His academic background is in Public Administration and Management, Public Financial Management and Public Service Delivery. He obtained his qualifications from The Durban University of Technology (DUT), he is currently studying towards a master’s degree in Public Management at DUT. He is currently working at Ethekwini Municipality, Ombudsperson and Fraud Prevention.