Andile Phehlukwayo (left) and Khaya Zondo (right) present their national jerseys to KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo (second left) and Head of Department Dr Sifiso Mtshali last week. Photo: Lungani Zama
DURBAN - The last place Andile Phehlukwayo and Khaya Zondo would have expected themselves to be this week was the KZN Legislature, in Pietermaritzburg.

And yet, there they were, breaking “ujeqe” (traditional bread) and eating beans and curry, as lunch guests of KZN Department of Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo and HOD Dr Sifiso Mtshali.

The MEC even had the good mind to ask if the Dolphins stars were allowed to break from their strict diet to enjoy the traditional fare on offer.

At face value, it is a strange combination, as sports stars and prominent members of the health fraternity are not known to readily associate.

But, of course, a sportsman is nothing without his body being in tip-top condition. So, actually, it ought to be the most natural association in the world.

Phehlukwayo and Zondo had come to thank Dr Dhlomo and Dr Mtshali respectively, because both men have become mentors in their lives.

To understand the context fully, one must rewind the tale to more than five years ago, when current convener of selectors Linda Zondi introduced these men, young and old, to each other.

Mentors in modern, African society are few and far between, and that chain of chivalry and engagement is even harder to find in sport. Zondi saw an opportunity to integrate youngsters with shining examples in their field, and the fruit of that initial labour has been twofold.

Cricket has gained new fans of stature, who woke at uncommon hours to watch Phehlukwayo playing in New Zealand, and who still stay in touch.

“I followed it as much as I could, but those hours were not easy,” Dr Dhlomo admitted.

“You know, when we first followed cricket, we knew Makhaya Ntini. We were proud of him, just like every South African. But this is different,” he said, pointing to Phehlukwayo and Zondo.

“These are our boys, Zulu boys who have grown up in front of us, and are now young men of great promise. We are fiercely proud of their achievements, and we follow them with keen interest,” he reiterated.

Zondo, now Dolphins captain, also has a deep-rooted relationship with Dr Mtshali, who is always happy to lend a sensitive ear.

“It’s just great to have someone to talk to, someone who understands the pressures that come with leadership and being under pressure. I learnt that people don’t owe you anything, but they help you because they are good people,” Zondo noted.

Zondo handed over one of his SA ‘A’ match tops to Dr Mtshali, who says he is an avid sports fan. “I watch everything. My son is just as obsessed with sports as I am, and the great thing is that we have these shining examples for our youth.

“Sometimes the message of a healthy body and mind is lost when it comes from an older man in his suit. But, these young men are living proof of that adage, and we are proud of them.”

Phehlukwayo had kept one of his playing jerseys from his debut match for South Africa for Dr Dhlomo, and presented it to him on Thursday, after giving a heartfelt thank you to those that have played a role in him becoming the man he is, away from bats and balls.

Dr Dhlomo went to the airport and saw a young Phehlukwayo off to the Under-19 World Cup in 2014, something he didn’t have to do.

Phehlukwayo has endured a challenging upbringing, but his talent and sheer force of character are in the process of changing his future forever.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when he paused and looked back, and thanked those who have opened their hearts to him.

He will never forget them, because they have given him a lifeline. Equally, the KZN Health department is acutely aware of the need for these budding stars to stay healthy.

“They know the door is always open, if they are injured, or need advice. We need them at their peak, because they represent us,” Dr Mtshali said, citing the example of Mfuneko Ngam as a lamentable warning of what can happen when talent is not nurtured at a young age. Some of those who come from challenging family dynamics need a helping hand on the way up. And that doesn’t always pertain to financial matters.

Sunday Independent 

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