Youth Day commemorates the Soweto Uprising in 1976, a reminder of the courageous scholars who fought for freedom and equality. What better way to honour their memory than to inspire South Africans with moving accounts of today’s brave youngsters.
One such story is that of Smangele Chiyi. Growing up in KwaZulu Natal, Smangele seized every opportunity life presented. At school, she was involved in drama and sports, including athletics and netball. She strived to be a great role model for others but more than anything, she wanted to make her family proud.
“My life suddenly changed forever in December 2017 when I visited my family in Johannesburg,” Smangele shares. “I went to a shop and was caught up in a robbery by four armed men. I remember hearing gunshots and falling to the floor covered in blood.”
Smangele’s injuries were severe; she fought for her life in intensive care for two weeks. She pulled through but was paralysed from the waist down and when she was finally discharged from hospital, she faced the daunting task of rebuilding her life. “In February 2018, I started rehabilitation at the Natalspruit Hospital in Gauteng, and although I was scared, I told myself that I could get through this. The support I got from my fellow patients who also faced various life challenges was a big part of my recovery,” she says. With the guidance of social workers, psychologists and physiotherapists, Smangele began to heal and eventually, she was able to go home. But she says her return was met with mixed reactions.
“My family didn’t know how to respond towards me. I had to assure them that even though I was in a wheelchair, I was not a different person, just differently abled,” Smangele explains. Fuelled by her own experiences, Smangele has made it her mission to inspire people with disabilities and those who are differently abled. Leading by example, Smangele is currently a learner at EduPower Skills Academy where she is doing a 12-month Learnership Programme: Contact Centre Level 3.
In addition, Smangele has excelled in sports and she is the only woman to qualify for the Pietermaritzburg-based wheelchair basketball team, the Warriors. Smangele’s outstanding skills have earned her a place on the National Senior Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team (the AmaWheelie Girls) that will be participating in the African Para Games in Ghana in September.
Smangele, an inspiration to all who encounter her, proves that with passion, determination, and a courageous mindset, it is possible to conquer adversity, rise above it, and achieve against all odds when fuelled by unwavering determination and self-belief.