Thank you for 'raising a champion', locals tell Luvo Manyonga's parents

2016-08-16 11:09

Cape Town – Nobody is turned away when they come knocking at the family home of Olympic silver medallist Luvo Manyonga in Mbekweni. And they are all allowed to crowd in front of the TV in the modest living room of the Machule Street home.

"My neighbours paid for us to be able to watch Luvo win his silver medal," his proud father, John, says, waving at passers-by while smoking a cigarette at the front gate.

Luvo Manyonga's mother Joyce and father, John
Luvo Manyonga's mother Joyce, pictured alongside his father John, with a photo of the Olympic silver medallist as a child. (Tammy Petersen/News24)

"Until two weeks ago, we didn't have DStv. But they all came together and paid for us to see my son win."

Manyonga's wife, Joyce, is a domestic worker and the only breadwinner in their home. John lost his job over 10 years ago as a forklift driver and times have been tough over the last decade.

"We only had normal TV. One day some people from around here just arrived and said they had collected money to get us a dish to watch the Olympics. I had no words – we aren't rich in this community. But the people here have good hearts."

Despite having an array of channels to choose from, no one channel-hops in the Manyonga household. Until the completion of the Olympics, SuperSport will be the only thing on their TV.

'Thank you for raising a champion'

John, 58, said he can't get enough of the congratulations he has been receiving from locals and strangers who have heard of his son's feat on Sunday.

One refuse collector jumped off the work truck and walked up to him, gripped his hand and thanked him for "raising a champion".

The streets of Mbekweni were alive on Monday as locals celebrated the pride of the Paarl community, carrying posters expressing their joy for Luvo's achievement. A band played as locals danced through the streets.

One high school pupil carried a poster reading "Every dark cloud has a SILVER lining".

Pupils take part in an impromptu street party
Pupils take part in an impromptu street party outside the Manyonga home. (Tammy Petersen/News24)

In the middle of the crowd was Joyce, who laughed and cheered along before bursting into tears.

"I am just so happy. I am so proud of my baby," she told News24.

Seeing her youngest child place among the best athletes in the world was wonderful, Joyce said.

"But he's getting fat," she insisted with a shake of her head. "He used to be so thin!"

She hasn't seen Luvo since March last year, when he was placed at the University of Pretoria's High Performance Centre by the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee.

'Still a good man'

Three years ago, the long jumper tested positive for tik, which resulted in a ban of over a year.

John described his son’s addiction as a "very hard time".

"There were times where I didn't see him for two days. I would look for him, walk the streets, but he would be nowhere to be found. The worry... It was unbearable," he recalled.

"But Luvo was still a good man. He was just doing things that were not good. He tried to kick the bad stuff but he just wasn’t strong enough."

Moving to Pretoria was the best thing that ever happened to Luvo, Joyce believes.

"I knew he couldn't stay here anymore. The tik – it's all over this community. He needed to go," she said.

The only time Joyce and John have seen their son since was on TV.

"It's better that way," John said. "The temptation will be all around him if he's here. Our son is strong, but addiction is a demon you can never shake."


Speaking about Luvo's battle with tik reduces his high school coach Nobenzeni Miniroyi to tears.

"It tore me apart," she said.

Miniroyi was one of the first to see Luvo's talent while at Desmond Mpilo Tutu Senior Secondary School.

Initially only interested in high jump, Miniroyi encouraged him to try long and triple jump.

The dedicated teacher was so invested in the promise shown by the teenager that she found him a professional coach, Mario Smith, who trained Luvo for free.

high school coach and mentor Nobenzeni Miniroyi
Luvo Manyonga's high school coach and mentor Nobenzeni Miniroyi. (Tammy Petersen/News24)

"I told him we didn't have money and he told me we wouldn't have to pay. All I had to do was bring him."

Smith died in a car accident in June 2014.

In order for him to attend coaching sessions in Stellenbosch, Luvo would sleep over at Miniroyi's Cloetesville home, or travel by train.

The athlete calls his former teacher "Mama", and phoned her before his first jump at the Olympics.

"He was feeling the pressure. I told him to think of me, of Mario, his parents and the people of Mbekweni. He asked me not to go sleep so that I could watch him," she recalled, as he was scheduled to jump in the early hours of the morning.

But after a long day of workshops, she dozed off and missed his jump.

Happy with silver

When Luvo made it to the final, Miniroyi made sure she was wide awake in the early hours of Sunday morning.

"He phoned again and I told him he was going to make it. Then he did."

American Jeff Henderson took gold with an 8.38m effort, with Luvo right behind him with 8.37m.

"I had no words. We were so close to gold, but we are happy with the silver," she said.

John believes Luvo's achievement shows that one should never lose hope when faced with obstacles such as addiction and "wrong paths".

"Look where my son was then, and look where he is now. The world now knows his name," he boasted.

"There are so many young people with great talent walking around in places like Mbekweni who have great talent and potential. All they need is a little investment and practice."

Read more on:    olympics 2016  |  luvo manyonga  |  cape town  |  athletics  |  good news

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