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This is the last opportunity for me to go to a Commonwealth Games or a World Cup.

Wheelchair stalwart gives it one more roll of the dice

Wheelchair stalwart gives it one more roll of the dice
 

By GARY LEMKE in Birmingham

February 1990: There is change in the air. South Africans are experiencing a bright new dawn. A month earlier FW de Klerk announced the end of apartheid and Nelson Mandela was freed from prison after 27 years. The world was watching as South Africans faced change with a flood of emotions.

That same month Cecil Dumond, a promising 18-year-old rugby player, joined the Orkney police as a student constable. Within weeks he realised it wasn’t his calling. 

Then, in a stroke of good fortune, he was offered a job at the Vaal Reef Mines mines as a learner surveyor. He knew the people there and they knew him. After all, he had been playing rugby for Vaal Reef Mines since he was in Standard 9. 

He had a girlfriend and was embarking on a career that would eventually pay well and offer handsome benefits. Life was good.

Friday, 30 March 1990. It’s 8.30am and Dumond, a strapping 1.92m teenager, is sitting hunched underground with seven others, in a tight space with a one-metre high “ceiling”. He has been on the job for three weeks. His job is to take samples from a freshly-drilled area into which explosives are placed.

He eases his way back from the wall face to allow for the drilling to start. As soon as it did, the “rock ceiling”, which hadn’t been supported with beams, comes crashing down. The man with the drill is killed in the rock fall, inches away from Dumond. He has his back broken. “Our rescuers got us to the surface at 1pm. We went to hospital in Klerksdorp and then transferred to a mine hospital in Johannesburg.”

As millions of South Africans were having their dreams come true with the ending of apartheid, Dumond’s nightmares were just starting.

“I had what is called a T12 break. My one leg has a bit of feeling at the top of the thigh, but in the other (right) leg there’s no sensation. I spent a long time in the hospital, but it was a big adjustment. It was tough on my parents and my 13-year-old brother. Then, one morning, at 10am, my dad put me in the car with him and dropped me off at a house for the disabled in Krugersdorp. ‘I’ll see you after work,’ he said. And he drove off. I was confused. In the house there were disabled people sitting around drinking, smoking, doing nothing. They had given up on life. Hours later my dad fetched me. I begged him to never take me back there again.”

Dumond is relating his story as we count down to the start of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Now aged 49, the former national wheelchair basketball captain is part of the 3×3 squad that is competing for Team SA at this event. Although his sport has seen him travel to Canada, Australia, the USA, Belgium, Dubai, Qatar, and France, Birmingham is a significant moment.

He was part of the London 2012 Paralympic qualifiers but was left behind as one of two non-travelling reserves. In 2014, his World Cup ambitions were extinguished in the final of the qualifiers, going down by two points to Algeria. “I knew that was my last chance to be part of something big,” he says. Dumond retired, but was talked into getting back on the court again. “You have to be prepared to work hard. I knew what I had to do to get back into the national team. You spend long hours alone, going to school netball courts and shooting baskets. It can take a toll on your private life. The youngsters these days – obviously not all of them, but a lot of them – don’t want to work hard. They have things easier and they give up easier. I always say that someone might have more talent than you but if you work harder than him then you can get further in your career.

“I have always been very independent. These days though, some players are pushed around (in their chairs) and they’re not independent enough. They aren’t ‘hard’. I’ve never broken a bone on the court but I’ve got scars and my shoulders have been damaged. I was playing a game in Joburg and as I went for a lay-up, the guy defending me fouled me and in Jhb, went in for a lay up and I fell over and split open the back of my head on his chair. I refused stitches and returned after my head was bandaged. My team was losing and I couldn’t afford to go off and get stitched. That doesn’t happen these days.”

Dumond knows he is in the twilight of a career that only started at the age of 36. “I married my childhood sweetheart, we had been together since before my accident. But being disabled changed our relationship, despite getting married. Becoming disabled initially messes you up mentally. She was in matric when I had my accident. We divorced at 29 and I met my now wife and she introduced me to wheelchair basketball. In 2008 I made the All-Stars team at Nationals and at the beginning of 2009 I was invited to the National camp. Then came the near-misses with qualifying and attending the major tournaments and I retired and un-retired, knowing this is the last opportunity for me to go to a Commonwealth Games or a World Cup.”

An avid Springbok rugby fan – and, perhaps surprisingly for someone who spent his life in Orkney and Krugersdorop, a Stormers supporter – Dumond chose wheelchair basketball ahead of wheelchair rugby because he didn’t qualify for the latter. “I wanted to play rugby because of my background, and I like that action and the bumping. But, you must have three limb disabilities, and I only had two.”

As the elder statesman of South African wheelchair basketball, Dumond feels that the sport is losing ground in the country and dwindling in numbers, for a variety of reasons. Costs – a “modern” game chair retails in the region of R80 000 – is one of them. The weak rand is another. “We need youngsters in the game. Our sport needs youngsters to go overseas. If they just stay in South Africa the level doesn’t improve. But, geographically we’re so far from Europe and the exchange rate makes it really expensive to go on tours. When I started, in 2009, 2010, 2011, we were out of the country a hundred days a year on tour. In the qualifiers for the London 2012 Games we beat Morocco by 40 points. Now, maybe youngsters will tour once a year.

“Ironically, safety measures put in place on the mines is another reason we’re not seeing rising numbers on the court. The mines were our feeder system, with youngsters having accidents on the mines, losing legs, becoming paraplegic and so on, Safety standards have been ramped up since about 2014. Now there’s one bad accident every two years or so. That’s great for society, but bad for us. Now, we get our players from those who might have had bike or car accidents.”

Dumond is still on the mines in Orkney, working as a logistics shift boss. “I work with budgets. But things aren’t great. Often I drive past the Oppenheimer Stadium where I used to play rugby. The place is now a mess, the ‘zama zama’ have stripped it of everything. Recently I even saw them taking things, brick by bricks. The ‘zama zama’ is a real problem generally. The police know about them but can’t do anything. They are armed and dangerous.’

Orkney has experienced such tragedy, death and heartbreak that some feel the town is cursed. At that same Oppenheimer Stadium in January 1991, some 42 Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates fans were trampled to death in the country’s second-worst sporting disaster. It’s as if Orkney wasn’t part of the real world, one in which South Africans were celebrating the end of apartheid and the building of the Rainbow Nation.

Those dates in which lives were lost in Orkney in 1990 and 1991 are not only etched in Dumond’s memory, but also inked on his arm. He has a ‘half sleeve’ tattoo from his right shoulder to his elbow, but not on the inside of his bicep. “I’m scared of needles, but my wife convinced me to have one. It’s of two turtles, one a sea turtle and one on land, showing that despite my situation I can still be adaptable to both land and water. It took 30 hours at four-hour stints to complete. I would love to finish it and make it a full sleeve, but am too afraid of the needles.”

There is also a date inked on his arm: 30 March 1990. The Friday that changed his world.

SA Sport, Wheelchair, Mens, Basketball, Press Releases, SA Team, 2022, SASCOC, Para, 2022 Commonwealth Games

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