In celebration of Youth Day (16 June) and Youth Month, the Disability Rights Unit is showcasing the extraordinary Durban University of Technology (DUT) student, Simingaye Shabalala who is a wheelchair basketball player.
Shabalala, who is 24 years of age, was born in Ladysmith. He was hit by a taxi at the age of four years in 2001 which resulted in him having his leg amputated. This was the beginning of his disability journey, which was a tragic time for him and his family. However, that did not take away his dreams of living a normal life. As he grew up, he went to mainstream schools where most of his classmates were not aware that he was an amputee, wearing an artificial leg.
He expressed that one day when he and his classmates were playing at school his artificial leg fell onto the ground, and that all the learners came around him as they were surprised to see an artificial leg that had fallen onto the ground.
He relayed that it was a very traumatic experience for him because he did not see anything wrong with having an artificial leg, but his fellow classmates saw him as a different person. He was then removed from the school, and he had to wait a whole year to get admission to a new school. In 2010 he found a school for the disabled as he was unable to continue at mainstream school. He was accepted at Open Air School, which is situated in the Glenwood area in Durban. He confessed that his love for basketball began at the Open-Air School, saying that during extra murals he would go and practice his wheelchair basketball skills.
“In 2011, I found myself representing KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) playing for the Under-18 category. I was mostly inspired by the older teammates who would go overseas and play and that is what drove me to never give up on my basketball because I believed in myself. Representing the country and making history became my number one goal. Wheelchair basketball means a lot to me, after my accident I never went for counselling, so sometimes I would question myself as to why am I like this? My therapy became wheelchair basketball and when my teammates and I were playing games those thoughts were immediately erased,” said Shabalala.
This aspiring wheelchair basketball star is currently studying towards a Diploma in Human Resources Management at DUT. He was very happy to have been accepted at the University, adding that he enjoys being a student. He is currently residing at a DUT residence, saying that there are some challenges that he is facing. He feels that the University does not prioritise differently abled students, and in terms of wheelchair basketball he relayed that they do face challenges due to lack of sponsors and nearby training venues.
Shabalala indicated that regardless of the challenges that he faces as a student, he is always motivated by friends, coaches, his classmates, and people around him. Also, through basketball he has travelled to many countries such as Dubai, Angola, Canada, Belgium, and Thailand and hopes to continue traveling the world and make his country proud.
“As we are celebrating Youth month, I want to say never give up, everyone faces challenges but that does not mean we should give up. The road to success is never easy and let us distance ourselves from negative things because disability does not define who you are,” he said.
Pictured: Simingaye Shabalala at one of his previous games.