Claire Mawisa is a South African television presenter, model and radio personality best known for being an SABC1 continuity presenter (1999-2001), as well as for co-hosting the SABC1 music variety show One, from 2002-2003. After many years working in radio and television, and opening her own business, Claire joined the Carte Blanche team in 2015.
How many rock bottoms have you had to face in your own life?
When we reflect on the adversities we’ve faced in our lives, we often think of two or three life-defining moments that we have had to overcome. Difficulties humans face are as many and as diverse as there are people on the planet, but some challenges we face have universal themes. Usually, the proverbial rock bottom includes loss of possessions, loved ones or control of one’s life; a physical or medical condition; abuse of some sort; or something behavior-related, like an addiction. For most of us, it is a rare opportunity to meet someone who has faced every single hard knock life can conjure up, and who has not only landed on their feet, but has gone on to succeed beyond their wildest imaginings.
Enter Xolani Luvuno. Born in the Eastern Cape, and brought up by his grandmother, he has gone on to be known around the world as the amputee who ran and completed the Comrades Marathon last year, on crutches! That on its own is no mean feat. The ultra marathon is known as one of the greatest physical and mental challenges a person can face in their lifetime. Granted, it’s elective so doesn’t really qualify as an adversity to overcome. But if it is difficult for able-bodied individuals to do it, how much more for a man with one leg? But that achievement is a very thin sliver of Xolani’s life.
I can honestly say that I have never met anyone in my entire life that has had to overcome as much as this man has had to. Yet, when I met him on a chilly autumn morning in Centurion, Pretoria he was very chatty and laughed at his own jokes. After hearing his story first-hand, I was left a bit dumbfounded. My life problems suddenly felt so miniscule compared to what he had gone through.
Xolani was abandoned by his parents as a young child, and was sent to live with his grandmother. But as a teen, he became increasingly disobedient, so much so that his grandmother gave him an ultimatum; either behave, or leave her house. He chose to drop out of school, lived on the streets, started doing drugs, and got involved in house robberies to feed his drug habit. It was at a house break-in that he was caught by police, and sentenced to 5 years in prison. While sharing his story, Xolani doesn’t expand much on what life was like in prison. I think he did it out of respect for me as a woman. Xolani’s physical frame is tiny, so when he alluded to the abuse, violence and rape that happened while incarcerated, he breaks eye contact for the first time and one can only imagine that he must have been on the receiving end of the unspeakable.
He returned to the streets after being released from prison to continue where he left off – drugging and stealing. He silently endured pain in his leg for some months, but when it became swollen his friends decided to take him to hospital where it was found that he had bone cancer. His leg would have to be amputated above the knee. After healing, he was released back to the streets but he returned as an easy target for abuse from fellow homeless people. He was forced to leave his life of crime because he literally could not run away from the law anymore. He realised that begging at traffic lights was the only way he would be able to survive.
It was at an intersection in Centurion, that Xolani used as his home base, that a motorist who passed by regularly on their commute to work stopped to have a conversation. The motorist’s name is Hein Venter. Hein still says that he doesn’t know what compelled him to stop and see how he could help Xolani that day, but added that he couldn’t ignore the feeling.
It is the arduous journey these two men have made together since that fateful day, to today, where Xolani is celebrated as a ground-breaking endurance athlete that not only completed the Comrades ultramarathon, but also the grueling Ironman triathlon. That is a testament to the unyielding and resilient nature of the human spirit.
Xolani makes no excuses for his life choices and takes full responsibility. He owns it all and has confessed it all. It is why he can speak so candidly about his life, and every misfortune he has had to experience, because he knows nobody can judge him more harshly than he judges himself. He does not have the words to articulate what Hein means to him or how Hein has changed his life. Xolani knows that, given the same opportunity, not many of his homeless friends would have been able to make the laborious journey to change their behaviour and reintegrate into mainstream society. But his achievements just show us all what can happen when someone is given a chance.