“It isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe.” – Muhammad Ali
Name : Mpho Mbiyozo
Occupation: my husband, but since that doesn’t pay nearly what it should, loose forward Southern Kings Rugby
Age: Dirty Thirty
Education: BA Media + History, U of Cape Town
Hobbies: Sports, Top Gear, surfing, beer, meat, maskandi music and our chubby little daughter.
I married up. Apparently marrying up has been a well known strategy for women throughout civilization. I didn’t know as much until I just googled it, but it seems to have worked out for me nonetheless.
I have always been drawn to people who overcome. It is not requisite – you can be born with a silver spoon up your arse and be inspiring. But there is something magnetic about people who have walked a longer journey to get to the same place. Their character is practically guaranteed; I want that on my side.
Mpho was born in Lusikisiki to a single mother who never had the privilege of education. He had far out-stripped his initial prospects by the time he was 15. He is the beneficiary of her inexhaustible spirit and the generosity of some truly remarkable people. He graduated from one of the top high schools, represented South Africa 33 times as a Springbok Seven, won the World Series, captained his team at the World Cup and is currently the only black Super Rugby player in the country with a University degree. He has no living direct blood relatives and has buried his mother, father and brother long before their time. He is patient, affable, handsome and unassumingly wise. He accepts people for who they are, is slow to judge and quick to forgive. I feel much better going the distance with him around.
We moved to Port Elizabeth 2 years ago. After 10 years in Cape Town, Mpho had reached the top of his rugby career given the available options. The opportunity arose for him to play in PE. It was a risk as the team was not at the top level, but they enticed him with an opportunity to share in building it up. Most black rugby players come from this region. With a sub-par professional union, they have not had the development structures necessary to maximize their potential. Accordingly, top talent gets poached by other unions and many more players exit long before their time due to lack of options.
I supported the decision whole-heartily. PE was always going to be a downgrade from Cape Town but it presented a unique opportunity. There are many problems in the world, yet it is tough to make a meaningful difference. When someone presents a vehicle to make an impact while doing what you love, you take it.
Ten days ago, the Southern Kings reached a critical milestone toward their vision when they played their first ever Super Rugby game. Despite much controversy, the team has reached the highest league in the world. Not only that, they made history as the first ever team to win their debut match.
We watched from the stands.
Mpho has always worked hard, but for the past 4 months he has gone above and beyond. He told me awhile back that playing Super Rugby is his dream. In the same breath he admitted he was scared it might never happen. He eats poached salmon and quinoa, has beaten all his fitness scores, maintained his goal weight and goes to sleep at 9pm reading his play book. He captained the team in 2 pre-season games, was lead tackler in one and named Player of the Camp. He has made several tv appearances and been one of the public faces of the team.
After the game, I could not sleep. I have never wanted anything so badly for anyone. I could give a crap about the shiny lights, but there is something so very powerful about chasing a dream. I want him to meet his full potential, believe in himself and apply it to the rest of life.
Mpho will tell you it is the nature of the game. How you handle being benched defines you as a player – it takes a far better person to stay positive and focused than it does to get frustrated. Not only does he have the courage to set a brazen goal, but he comes from a long suffering people that certainly have patience. He will continue to work on what he can control and contribute no matter what. Things will come right.
It is super humbling. Especially because I am on the other side of him losing my shit.
In a sport loaded down by statistics, here are a few that I had to do by hand with a calculator. In opening week of Super Rugby in South Africa:
- 110 players dressed
- 10 were black/ 7 starters
- 15 coloured/9 starters
- Out of 52 million South Africans, 4.5 million are white (8.9%), 4.6 million coloured (8.9%) and 41 million black (79.2%)
- It looked the same in week 2 and will again in week 3.
- “Invictus” happened 18 years ago.
This is a seriously unpopular topic. I can feel people getting uncomfortable through my keyboard. I won’t be surprised if someone brings up the number of white soccer players or asks why we cannot just put race behind us. I have answers for that. I am, however, sensitive about making excuses for my husband. I know nothing about rugby and have no objectivity. Sport is harsh – for every champion there are many more who just aren’t good enough. Mpho could be terrible for all I know. So could the other 30 odd black players watching from the sidelines.
There are 6 million South Africans living in shacks, all black. My black nanny gets paid as much in a day as I do in 30 minutes and I pay double the asking wage. She uses it to care for her elderly father, 2 children, schizophrenic brother and her dead sister’s 2 orphans. This week, my black friend got stopped in her driveway for ‘suspicious’ behavior and had to prove she lives there; a white neighbor called the cops on her and her 9 year old son when they entered the complex. Mpho has been held to the ground with a gun at his back by a white police after using a pay phone and been called a ‘dirty kaffir’ out a car window. I had to stop seeing my white manicurist after she complained about black people crowding her at the mall. My white friend refused to hire black employees because she “didn’t want clients to have to hear another useless black voice”.
Do the math. This is South Africa; whether we like it or not, race matters. If you wish it away not only do you choose ignorance, you deny a constructive conversation about how to create change. If you pretend it is in the past or not applicable in your backyard, you fear what it says about you. And if you tokenize someone, you break their soul. If that is your goal, only God can help you.
In 2005 I went to to a rugby capping ceremony. Capping involves inducting players onto a professional team after a qualifying number of games. It was delightful; 10 players were capped, 2 of them black. At the end, the captain approached them to thank them for a great season:
I love my husband and admire him more than I can ever express. He inspires and humbles me every single day. If things will indeed come right, it will be because of his wisdom and patience. He will teach our daughter integrity and fortitude and she will learn quickly that her father has courage her mother does not. But, as incredible as it is to walk next to someone willing to double the distance, it sucks to have to do it and I am deeply sorry people get used to it.
Thank-you for sharing your inspiring thoughts. I have difficulty, finding words to express
my response to your beautiful piece. My family immigrated to Canada at the height of the power of the apartheid government, when there seemed no hope of change, fifteen years
before Nelson Mandela was released, after 27 years in prison. Canadians are wonderful, caring people and your words reflect those qualities. We are all one. Elaine Bunbury
Wow! So inspiring…This is a beautiful piece of art mrs mbiyozo. I love this part “Do the math. This is South Africa; whether we like it or not, race matters. If you wish it away not only do you choose ignorance, you deny a constructive conversation about how to create change. If you pretend it is in the past or not applicable in your backyard, you fear what it says about you. And if you tokenize someone, you break their soul. If that is your goal, only God can help you.” Indeed you”ll are gods brightest creation.May god bless you and your family with all the joy,happiness and glory in the world. Keep shining!
May God keep adding to you and your family<3!!!
Ooh God, how I love what I’ve just read. This is beatuiful, but I especially love, “Not only does he have the courage to set a brazen goal, but he comes from a long suffering people that certainly have patience. He will continue to work on what he can control and contribute no matter what. Things will come right.”
This is beautiful mrs. Mbiyozo, more sisters like you are needed to keep encouraging men out there. I’m happy for you, your husband and your daughter.
Absolutely brilliant and does the family and herself proud. The situation is still the same iro player represetation and the way people are judged first by colour before ability or anything else and it is very sad after almost 20 years of liberation.
Bandise Maku is a university graduate. All the best to ur husband and the kings. I look forward o reading more from you
My apologies for missing that – there is very little published on the topic so I was researching one by one. Bandise has a BTech from TUT and is a Springbok to boot. An outstanding role model all around.
This is amazing. This is a different perspective on a number on issues and I thank you for sharing your view. We read expert and sport analyst’s articles but we never truly see it from the player’s angle…or better yet his family’s side.
Uyimbokodo mfazi and I have no doubt that he and your little princess draw strength from you.
It’s not everyday that I am truly speechless, wonderful read, it was really a pleasure reading this. You guys are proof that tough times never last but tough people do. Keep on being an insiration for each other and when you meet challenges, never give up as you will be depriving yourself the pleasure of overcoming that obstacle. God bless.
Wow am blown away I must say. All the best guys. May your marriage be blessed. Thank you for sharing these words with us Mrs.
Really beautiful, and deep. Thanks for your very thoughtful reflections.
So glad that you wrote this. You succinctly capture what still goes on in South African Rugby. This should have stopped 20 years ago, or better yet, never even begun! Love the example of you both. Gob bless you
Inspiring beyond words!!!!!!
Wow.. soul food:)
Wow! So inspiring…I am speechless. Keep writing and holding your husband up. We need more wives like you in this world. I am married, love my husband and I’m in it for the long haul. Thank you for this. God bless you and your beautiful family
Wow this is touching…I wish everyone out there could think the way you do, its not easy being a black kid out here but we try as hard as we can to be accepted through our work.
and wade way’sho kamandi indaba yakho sisi…siyakuvuyela/siyakubongela.
Nice story…grew up with Mpho in Lusikisiki, his mom always had that smile 🙂
Give thanks! We need more stories that emancipate us and help see each other with spiritual eyes’ ye’ as a sport person which competed in the apartheid era’ we only had one objective and that was to beat the white men’ that was the only way we could free ourselves from self inflicted believe systems which made us so called colored’ or kleurling mense inferior to white mostly Afrikaans people’ strangely we still been marginalized and put in box to be compared to other race groups in this country which we were brutalized and force to forget about our heritage, language and indigenous status. So when we still been called colored or kleurlinge I feel like I’am back in da apartheid era is just we have new apartheid engineers of the indigenous people that want to assimilate us into the mainstream population group. The journey that was travelled from my elders till know is not something we often talk about’ like Mpo we prefer to keep on walking and not shout our achievements from the roof tops’ we prefer to look our eyes at our communities and work to emancipate our youths. My sister my people are direct ascendants from the Khoi and San people’ we are mighty people’ the correct translation of Khoikhoi is Men of men. That is what we call your husband. And all respect due to him.
Wow Aimee, this is deep bra and thank u so much for writing this. We the black rugby loving fraternity have to have this convo every time, a black player worthy of a place in any team is unjustly treated and the justification is they r not good enough and should stop whining and be grateful esp for a team like the southern kings, said to be the team where black players will be treated with fairness. I hate the trivialization that will be given to this article and I respect your bravery to write it, people need to know the reality of black professional players in this country that no matter how hard they try and how well they perform, that will never matter as their performance does not determine where they get to, its how they beg and grovel that determines who a good black is and therefore gets to play. Its disgusting
Wow, you are a kind woman. Stay as sweet as you are, there’s brains behind that beauty. May God give you the strength to carry on and may He bind your family with his Love, protection and garace.
Please write a book, it would b a best seller!
Words are a waste.. Keep shining..
Inspiring … Love this!