Wheelchair tennis in Khayelitsha

Siyabonga Kalipa
Mayenzeke Gwija training in Khayelitsha. Photo by Siyabonga Kalipa.
Siyabonga Kalipa

27-year-old Mayenzeke Gwija from Khayelitsha was born disabled in both legs. But he has not let disability get in the way of becoming a success in sport. He is currently ranked fifth by Wheelchair Tennis of South Africa.

After seeing wheelchair tennis on TV for the first time, Gwija decided he wanted to take it up.

He says, “I first saw wheelchair tennis on TV and I was fortunate because when I went to a wheelchair race there were brochures of tennis. I contacted the persons on the brochures and it started from there.”

“I used to play alone, but then I decided to try and form a club. In 2012, we formed the Khayelitsha Wheelchair Tennis Club,” says Gwija.

After competing in different competitions throughout the country, he went up in rankings and he has been ranked fifth in the country since 2013.

Gwija says, “I still want to go up in rankings so I can compete internationally.”

The only difference between wheelchair tennis and able bodied tennis is that in wheelchair tennis the ball is allowed to bounce twice.

Gwija says, “Travelling is the biggest issue for me and some of my team mates. Most of us don’t have cars, so when we come to practice or go to tournaments we are forced to use taxis. They never stop for us because they say we take too long to board and we take up too much space.”

He says that when he first started playing wheelchair bound tennis his community had a lot of questions about how he plays. He had to explain time and again.

But that all has passed now since a lot of people from the community have seen the sport. He hopes to win his first tournament in September. At his last tournament in Johannesburg, he was knocked out of the quarter finals.

Gwija says, “My aim is to improve sports for disabled people in Khayelitsha and make them aware of such activities. You never see them [people in wheelchairs] out and about involving themselves socially in the community; the only time you see them is when they are pushed to go and get the grant.”

Gwija says some wheelchair bound sportspeople “are afraid people will laugh at them instead of supporting them.”

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TOPICS:  Sport

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