How do you choose between a career as a professional basketball player and a teacher?

You do as Qaphela Dlamini has done – become an excellent teacher and a brilliant sports coach!

When Qaphela was four years old, he lost the use of his legs. Undeterred, he crawled around the mealie fields helping his mother to plant seeds in rural Enyazane.   As luck would have it, a woman who worked at KwaZamothule School for the Disabled was visiting her sister nearby, spotted him and asked why he wasn’t at school? He had accepted the fact that going to school would be impossible, so it was with real delight that he joined Mrs Hadebe’s grade one class in 1995. “He was such a clever boy,” remembers Mrs Hadebe, who still teaches at the school, “always near the top of his class.” He also loved sport, and whereas previously he played soccer on his knees with the other kids, he was now introduced to the world of wheelchair sport. He excelled at basketball and soccer, loved javelin, shot-put and hokka.

In Grade 8, he moved to the mainstream school in the area – amaHlubi High.  While he was fortunate to find accommodation close by, so as not to have to hire special transport to attend, he remembers the challenge the muddy dirt roads posed for his wheelchair. “My white shirt was often splattered. Many times I got suck and people passing by had to help me.” amaHlubi High was magnificent in adapting to his needs, building ramps to give him access to class and ensuring the other learners did not discriminate against him.   In a deep rural area where myths and superstitions around disabilities abound, this was remarkable. For years, his mother had had to suffer the neighbours whispering about a curse on her family, as well as cope with extreme poverty and a challenging child.

He was named captain of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial team in the Wheelchair Basketball League.   After Matric, he was stuck back at home in the hills for lack of finances.  Wiser now, he didn’t crawl around planting mealies, he sat in his wheelchair helping to shuck the kernels from the cob instead. When one of the teachers at KwaZamokuhle went on maternity leave, he was invited to fill her post temporarily and grabbed the opportunity.

Then in 2009, he had a big decision to make. “I was offered a contract to play full time Wheelchair Basketball in Johannesburg. However, my middle name is Professor, so I decided I must live up to that.”  He was accepted at the University of Zululand to study for a teaching degree. A natural leader, he made a big impact while at the University – ensuring there were access ramps, that every disabled student had a laptop and introducing disabled sports.   He graduated proudly in 2013, the first in his family to get a degree, and silencing the critics in the community.

Qaphela is now employed full time at KwaZamokuhle as the Maths and Computer Science teacher, which he loves.  Naturally, he spends as much time as he can coaching sport and his Young Dynamo’s excel in every competition. During weekends, he invites youngsters from the surrounding community to come to school and play with the disabled learners. “They have fun, ask many questions and soon understand that you cannot get a disability by touching someone. I am proud that, in this area, no one discriminates against disabled people anymore.”

Qaphela has enrolled for his Master’s Degree and once qualified, plans to join the Department of Education.  “I need to ensure that better decisions are made at that level. No one can say they understand the issues unless they are disabled. I must use my skills to make South African education better for all learners. Everyone has the right to have a good time.”

Qaphela constantly reflects on all those who have helped him in life and believes it is very important to help others.

Watch out! Qaphela! This man is going places fast.