How the boy who used to hate school but loved samp and beans scrambled up the rugby pyramid to become a Springbok hero.
When Springbok winger Makazole Mapimpi became the first South African to score a try in a Rugby World Cup final, Nofikelephi Mapimpi — the woman who raised him — cried out with his clan name.
“Umqocwa, Zikhali, Mbizana, Jojo, Tiyeka, Ubutsolobentonga,” she sang, words of praise that form an inextricable link to his roots in the rolling green hills of Moni village in the heart of rural Eastern Cape.
The red roof of Nofikelephi’s rondavel is a beacon set against the hillside, a weather-worn doorway is recessed from the wind.
The 76-year-old woman watches over a boiling pot of umngqusho (samp and beans), a delight she insists is her nephew’s favourite meal.
“I have been making umngqusho in case he walks in,” she said, mindful that the man she raised is far from home.
“I haven’t spoken to him yet and he hasn’t called but I have prepared his food for him,” she said.
The single room beneath its corrugated-iron canopy was home for Makazole, the base from which his stardom would flourish.
Nofikelephi said Mapimpi never knew his father, and his mother Nomama died when he was four years old, leaving her to raise him along with her own children.
“She was sick for a long time. She went in and out of Frere Hospital in East London and passed eventually. Life was hard even before we lost her,” she said.
“We struggled to raise him because we are not people who have money. Before she died his mother used to run a spaza shop which sold paraffin, bread and sweets. She would also sell second-hand clothes she bought in Durban,” she said.
As steam rises from the pots, Nofikelephi remembers a boy who loved to run.
“Every day after school Makazole would rush home and take off his school uniform before he took his makeshift plastic rugby ball and rush to go play with other kids,” she said.
“He didn’t love school at all, and we used to punish him for that,” she added.
The speedster, now 29, eventually found his way to the Jim Mvabaza High School in Twecu, on the outskirts of King William’s Town.
Mapimpi first appeared in Border colours at under19 level in 2010 and worked his way through the provincial structures while playing for Mdantsane rugby clubs Winter Rose and Swallows.
It was his work with these clubs and Border which attracted enough attention for him to move from East London to Port Elizabeth, joining the Southern Kings in 2016.
From the Kings, where he scored a heap of Super Rugby tries, and the Cheetahs, where he excelled in the Pro14 tournament, he knocked on the SA “A” door.
A move to the Sharks firmly set him on the Springbok path and he debuted for the national team against Wales in Washington last year, a far cry from his humble beginnings.
Mapimpi’s former Border coach, Chumani Booi, said the player and his path to the Springbok jersey were inspirational.
“At school level his talent got no recognition, mostly because he was not at a prestigious rugby school and thereby far from the eyes of school rugby selectors,” he said.
“He had to go and play for a club and thereafter we drafted him. The pathway was tough for him, bearing in mind it’s difficult for anyone to get a space in a Springbok setup.”
Booi said Mapimpi had fought against the current to separate himself, and rise above the winding roads of Moni village.
“He is one guy who has a lot of commitment and discipline. It is a message to every single rugby-playing child that there is not only one pathway to a Springbok jersey.”
For Nofikelephi, her nephew will always be the boisterous child who struggled to focus on his school work. The first time she watched him play was during the World Cup final. She went to a local fan park to watch because she doesn’t have a TV.
“He is the first child in our family to be on television,” she said.