Week 249 (21 - 27 July)
Ntando Mahlangu is one of South Africa’s fastest rising stars and, after a first-place finish in the T61 Men’s 200m at the IAAF Diamond League Anniversary Games in London last weekend, the 16-year- old has set himself up as the man to beat.
Mahlangu’s first 10 years were spent in a wheelchair, due to hemimelia, a condition that affects the growth of the leg below the knee. In 2012, the decision was made to amputate both his legs above the knee so that he could be fitted with prosthetics.
"I started living, I started being a child,” Mahlangu told BBC Africa. “That's when I actually started to enjoy life, knowing more about life and being the guy I am today."
Mahlangu only took up para athletics in 2015, following a visit from South African Paralympic gold medallists Arnu Fourie and Samkelo Radebe, and, since his debut on the track, he has excelled. In 2015, Mahlangu was awarded Overall Sports Winner of the Year, Junior Athlete of the Year and Most Developed Athlete of the Year by the Gauteng North Association for the Physically Impaired, and has ranked number two in the world in the T42 200m since 2016. Mahlangu’s finest achievement to date is his silver medal-winning performance at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, where he first astonished the world with his incredible speed.
However, Mahlangu remains grounded. Following his monumental achievement in Brazil, he returned to his studies and hopes to go on and study engineering at university. He refuses to let his impairment act as a barrier for success.
“I never see disabled or abled, a disabled guy can be president. I always try to stay positive, think that it is a privilege; I'm living, I got a house, I've got food, and all of those things keep me motivated."
Mahlangu recognises the responsibility of being an athlete in the public eye but believes in respect first and foremost.
“I want to show people that if I can respect the person that I am running next to, then the other guy out there sitting at home can also respect his wife, his children; we can respect each other. You don't have to be the president to make a change in your country. You can just be a normal guy and you can make a change.”
Following Mahlangu’s success in Rio and again in London this summer, many more will be following his burgeoning career in the run up to Tokyo 2020. It is Ntando Mahlangu’s ability to tell his incredible story modestly and to inspire others through his performances and dedication to personal development on and off the track that makes him JTA Communicator of the Week.