He’s the stick-fighting champ!

By Drum Digital
23 December 2010

HE LEAPS through the long grass with the speed and agility of a young buck, his stick held above his head, his shield clutched in his other hand and his eyes so wide the whites are gleaming.

It's a fighting stance Shaka's warriors would have been proud of – but the man charging through the veld is not primed for mortal combat. He's showing off the skills that have made him a highly respected man around here and the noble leader of a group of kids who hope to grow up to become just like him: a national stick-fighting champion.Mandla Evergreen Ngwenya was recently crowned as Mzansi's induku (stick-fighting) champ for the third year in a row at the annual Indigenous Games held at the University of Johannesburg.

His success has made him something of a celebrity among the hundreds of participants who descend on the AW Muller Stadium each year for the event. And the hotlycontested stick-fighting tournament is the highlight of the games that bring together regional champions from different codes – including board games such as khokho and dibeke, and even jukskei.

It's easy to see why Mandla's so hard to beat when we meet him after a long drive that ends with potholes, tall dry grasses and goats at eMadadeni in KwaZulu-Natal. He's a powerful man who, at 38 years old, has the reflexes of a teenager. It's testament to his know-how with a shield that he only has three scars from all his years of stick-fighting: two on his shin and one on his head.

Little wonder the group of girls and boys who practice their induku moves with Mandla regard him as such a hero. He's full of praise for his protégés too.

We meet him shortly after a training session and his barrel chest is still swollen with pride. "I'm moulding future grandmasters here," he says. "From here on the sky will be the limit for them because stick-fighting doesn't just bring joy, it can bring a small fortune too."

His reputation is legendary, as Mike Mthembu, KwaZulu-Natal's Indigenous Games co-ordinator, tells us as he waxes lyrical about Mandla's ability.

"He's a true champion; for the past three years he's won all the regional and national titles," he says, adding that Mandla's dominance in the world of stick-fighting has propelled him to cult status among induku enthusiasts. "It's not only his strength but his tactical expertise that always sees him win."

ON the home front things are not going quite as smoothly as Mandla would like, and our presence here in the township near Newcastle seems to be heightening a dispute between the man of the moment and his young wife, Lihle Zungu.

"Cha, baba, ngeke kulunge (no baba, it won't be possible)," she tells him when he asks her to join him for a picture outside their home. He doesn't give up easily and tries to cajole her into the picture as the photographer stands waiting. "Please sithandwa, woza ngapha (come this side)," he laughs.

Read the full article in DRUM of 6 January 2011

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