“Feel nervous around him; you might meet him in the final!” In remembrance of Buntu Manyana
I was so very saddened to hear of the recent passing of Buntu Manyana.
This polio victim, was at times controversial, likeable, affable, rude, wise, articulate character though at all times (in my opinion) a seriously misunderstood individual who was an exceptionally talented athlete and possessed a desire to be a top basketball player but who, for whatever reasons, never realised his true potential.
I had never heard of this colourful chap until 1997 when I received a call from his distraught mother in the Eastern Cape, desperate as to the plight of her son. He was a restless heart with a clear and very focussed vision! Buntu wanted to play basketball! He lived, slept, dreamt (and did a whole lot of other things) for basketball. In her opinion he was wasting, had little future, no opportunity and could / would ultimately go down life’s weary path and opt for the wrong fork in the road were his situation not changed. He needed to be in the city, he needed work, he needed a roof over his head, he needed to play basketball full stop!
I had previously met another chap boasting similar qualities: also a polio victim, also with a burning ambition to be the best that he could be in sports, also seriously misunderstood, very determined and with every right to wonder why life was seemingly trying to discard him at every opportunity – this chap was me! Buntu’s mother’s call stirred me and I had to help.
I remember my first meeting with Buntu. He was confident, arrogant, demanding and all that stuff. He was without doubt intelligent but, most of all, he possessed the greatest smile that I could remember. When he smiled, he beamed!
We managed to get Buntu part-time work with long time office automation supporters of sport for disabled, Gestetner (now RICOH), and he moved from pillar to post in various jobs as and when they arose. He also moved from various basketball teams as and when opportunities arose! This in my opinion was neither good nor bad for, whilst basketball was his love, reality in a changing South Africa had to be recognised and I knew, and always felt, that his career path was being hampered by a sport that offered no real opportunities in the very long term, particularly from a livelihood point of view.
Sure, he had played in the national basketball side at the World Champs in Japan 1998 and the Paralympic Games in Sydney in 2000 but, on a few other tours, fallouts with management and team players alike labelled him a poor traveller who didn’t deliver the goods whilst away from home.
I was at the helm of a NIKE ad campaign for the 2000 Paralympic Team, a “shock awareness” campaign aimed at jolting “Joe Public” into understanding that top level athletes with disabilities should be recognised for their ability not their disability.
Buntu’s poster depicted him in action with a steely look. The caption read: “Feel nervous around him; you might meet him in the final!”
During 2005 I capitalised on a discussion with Annette Church, a senior manager at Nedbank, regarding the appointment of people with disabilities. She was intrigued and responded that she would like to pursue the challenge and could I recommend anyone that she may be able to accommodate? I immediately recommended Buntu Manyana.
The feedback from the interview was as expected: he is brash, demanding, could be difficult, but clearly too intelligent for the intended post so we are going to hire him in an elevated role, watch him grow and try to create a career path. And by the way, what a smile!”
Buntu joined Nedbank, a real job at last and one that allowed him the freedom to work hard and play hard, no more excuses.
Despite this opportunity, Buntu had demons and somehow had a knack of biting the hands that were trying to feed him, often inappropriately resorting to the proverbial race card. To my horror, he once referred to me (in a heated moment) as a racist! This, after my efforts to promote him (for no personal gain) on many occasions.
Though hurt, I accepted the anger. I think I understood it but hoped that it would change.
It did! Despite suspensions and local isolation (for bad on-court tactics and behaviour) pushing him past his prime he regained his place in the SASOL national side that toured Belgium in April this year. Sadly, he fell ill whilst on tour and never got much court time as a result. Buntu was set to rejoin the Discovery Eagles but fell ill, was hospitalised, and tragically passed away on 20th April at the age of 34.
Love him, hate him; those who met him will remember him. Most respected him.
Rest in peace Buntu and don’t take any nonsense from the angels!