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The rugged Road To Tokyo?

It can be a bumpy ride to Olympic glory along the dusty streets of Africa. William Mokgopo built his first bike in a shipping container; with grit and dash of a disregard, he is on the road to Tokyo 2020 in search of Olympic glory.

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William Mokgopo started out riding his uncle’s bike on the rugged streets of Diepsloot, a township 40 kilometers north of Johannesburg.

“My uncle had this old road bike, it was so big, extra-large, and I was so little I would get into the frame and try peddle on the side.”

At 13 years old, he built his first bike inside a shipping container. Three years later, he was hurtling down the dirt roads of Africa in serious mountain bike (MTB) competitions. In 2020, he hopes to ride for gold in Tokyo.

They call him the Skinny Hulk. The name fits like a glove. Mokgopo, the South African mountain biker, is tall, thin and pumped up with gutsy determination. At the age of 24, he is already the 12th-ranked mountain biker in South Africa; part of a new generation of cyclists from the streets to race for gold at the UCI MTB World Championships, the African Continental MTB Championships, and the UCI MTB World Cup.

“MTB is growing massively. In the future, I think it could be a major sport. It’s coming to schools now and the schools series this year had about 10,000 riders. Even if you look at the black communities, it’s growing. Yesterday we went for an 11-hour ride around Johannesburg and there were about 30 black riders.”

“I think it’s a bit premature to think I will qualify for this year’s Olympics. But the qualifiers are due in May. Even if I make third or second, I still might make it.”

On this early summer morning, Mokgopo, in riding gear, greets with a warm smile outside Number 3080, on a bumpy street in Diepsloot. It’s not easy for cars in this street, but an ideal challenge for training on a bike.

Mokgopo lives in a RDP (Reconstruction and Development Program) house that the government started building for its citizens after the 1994 elections.

“Everyone here used to live in extension one; in shacks. When the houses were allocated, they chose a block of shacks and said those living in shacks from here to here are getting RDP houses. We were given a number and told this was our house. We signed a form, and that was it. I was still at primary school at that time. Before it was the six of us living in the house.”

“The first year that I started getting paid, I extended these other two houses and one in the back here. It was actually just to have a bit of space. It was difficult living together; trying to bath here and trying to do a whole lot of stuff,” he says.

Everything changed when a 13-year-old Mokgopo came across a shipping container.

“It was just up the road from my house. You will see the fencing on the main road. It started with a project called Earn-A-Bike. You would go and choose a bike, then they would strip it down and then you would teach yourself how to build it. Then, when you graduated, that bike that you built would be your own bike,” he says.

Here, Mokgopo came across Simon Nash, Founder of the Diepsloot Mountain Bike Academy, and began to race.

“People didn’t take it seriously. When you are riding a bike in Diepsloot, it looks like you are just doing it for leisure. You are a grown-up still riding a bike, for my neighbors it was stupid. Soccer is the main sport here, so when you are on a bike people are like what are you doing?”

For Mokgopo it was uphill all the way. His school friends tied strings across the road to bring down his bike. Outside a corner store, a group of men would sit on crates and laugh at him as he rode by.

“It would be very tough getting out the township in your riding gear. I would have to take shorts and the minute I got out of town then take them off and go ride my bike. There were guys who would stop me and ask me stupid questions, like what is this hat? What are these pads on your pants; are they for a woman? But now those people who were laughing at me are actually my friends.”

“The other day, I was sitting on the floor at the corner shop and one of the guys came up and said why is The Celebrity, cause that what they call me now, sitting here? One guy said I think even if William has a million rand he will still come and sit here. I always want to show that I still want to be at the level they are.”

One reason for Mokgopo’s smile on this day is a new R70,000 ($4,750) bike, tucked away in his room. Along with competing professionally on the Kargo Pro MTB Team, the first UCI-registered MTB Team in South Africa, Mokgopo is a sports sciences student at the University of Pretoria.

“The tricky thing about MTB is getting the points and staying in front. When you do cross country you need to look at the course. When you are racing it’s a completely different course. Someone might push you off course or the rock you thought you would be jumping from might have moved. It’s always the thought of what’s coming next,” says Mokgopo.

“From our side, William is a one-of–a-kind athlete, he is so complete on and off the bike and many pro athletes can learn from him. The Olympics is very much a reality for William in 2020 and beyond. He is showing improvement every season and also deals with setbacks very well which is a very important aspect for a pro athlete striving to be the best. Making small adjustments to his training regime over the coming seasons will see William gain that consistency that is needed week in, week out for Olympic level racing,” says Shaun Peschl, Team Manager of Kargo MTB.

Cycling isn’t cheap. Mokgopo says it can cost R500,000 (around $34,000) a year to race as a professional for travel alone. His team is fortunate to get their bikes and supplements for free. The latest equipment can make all the difference.

“When I started racing, I had a poor conditioned bike. I remember the academy got me a carbon bike, I could finish second. It just shows from that little change in equipment it can set you moving into that winning stage. It can put you on the podium. The expenses can push people away from the sport. But it depends on the person you are,” he says.

Racing is all about focus, he says.

“I will sit with my eyes open and listen to music. People think I am listening, but I am seeing the course and riding it all the time. It’s getting the feel of the race before even getting to the starting line. I see everything how I want it to be in the race. This is where I have to jump. This is where I need to speed up,” says Mokgopo.

He once spent three weeks in bed with a broken shoulder, after he clipped a motorbike while training on a dirt track.

“I couldn’t even control my fingers. I rode one handed to home in Diepsloot. Overnight it got worse and we had to go to the hospital the next day. But when I went back everything had completely changed. I started coming second and third and ended up winning a race and that was it. I went to bigger races and was introduced to cross country. When you get your first victory that is when the love gets that bit bigger,” he says.

The proof is in the scars. Mokgopo has dozens of them.

“When you fall, the blood looks super cool… My mom was skeptical; with all the bruises and stitches I have when I come home. She didn’t want me to do it. She doesn’t say much, but you can see she’s very proud. My dad always says he’s very proud of me,” says Mokgopo.

Mokgopo’s dream of a spot in Rio were dashed when he injured his knee at the Cape Epic in March. It took two months to get back on the bike again.

“On Day 4 of the Epic, my knee was in so much pain, but I stuck it out to just finish, positioning was no longer important.”

The injury forced Mokgopo to build a new dream; his plan is now to be the South African champion in 2017, go to the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and to be an Olympic athlete in Tokyo in 2020.

Bumps, bruises, a bike built in a shipping container and friends who used to laugh at him. Mokgopo comes from humble beginnings and hopes to ride his luck all the way to Japan in 2020.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Sport

The Springboks And The Cup Of Good Hope

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After their epic win beating England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan on November 2, the Springboks returned home to South Africa, undertaking a nation-wide tour, in an open-top bus, holding high the Webb Ellis Cup. In this image, in the township of Soweto, they pass the iconic Vilakazi Street with throngs of screaming, cheering residents and Springbok fans lining the street. The sport united the racially-divided country. For the third time in history, the South African national rugby team was crowned world champions.

Image by Motlabana Monnakgotla

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Déjà vu: South Africa Back to Winning

Our Publisher reflects on the recent Springbok victory in Yokohoma, Japan

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Rugby World Cup 2019, Final: England v South Africa Mtach viewing at Nelson Mandela Square

By Rakesh Wahi, Publisher
FORBES AFRICA

Rugby is as foreign to me as cricket is to the average American. However, having lived in South Africa for 15 years, there is no way to avoid being pulled into the sport. November 2, 2019, is therefore a date that will be celebrated in South Africa’s sporting posterity. In many ways, it’s déjà vu for South Africans; at a pivotal time in history, on June 24, 1995, the Springboks beat the All Blacks (the national rugby team of New Zealand) in the final of the World Cup. The game united a racially-divided country coming out of apartheid and at the forefront of this victory was none other than President Nelson Mandela or our beloved Madiba. In a very symbolic coincidence, 24 years later, history repeated itself.

South Africans watched with pride as Siya Kolisi lifted the gold trophy in Yokohama, Japan, as had Francois Pienaar done so 24 years ago in Johannesburg. My mind immediately reflected on this extremely opportune event in South Africa’s history.

The last decade has not been easy; the country has slipped into economic doldrums from which there seems to be no clear path ahead. The political transition from the previously corrupt regime has not been easy and it has been disheartening to see a rapid deterioration in the economic condition of the country. The sad reality is that there literally seems to be no apparent light at the end of the tunnel; with blackouts and load-shedding, a currency that is amongst the most volatile in the world, rising unemployment and rising crime amongst many other issues facing the country.

Rakesh Wahi, Publisher Forbes Africa

Something needed to change. There was a need for an event to change this despondent state of mind and the South African rugby team seems to have given a glimmer of hope that could not have come at a more opportune time. As South African flags were flying all over the world on November 2, something clicked to say that there is hope ahead and if people come together under a common mission, they can be the change that they want to see.

Isn’t life all about hope? Nothing defies gravity and just goes up; Newton taught us that everything that goes up will come down. Vicissitudes are a part of life and the true character of people, society or a nation is tested on how they navigate past these curve balls that make us despair. As we head into 2020, it is my sincere prayer that we see a new dawn and a better future in South Africa with renewed vigor and vitality.

Talking about sports and sportsmen, there is another important lesson that we need to take away. Having been a sportsman all my life, I have had a belief that people who have played team sports like cricket, rugby, soccer, hockey etc make great team players and leaders. However, other sports like golf, diving and squash teach you focus. In all cases, the greatest attribute of all is how to reset your mind after adversity. While most of us moved on after amateur sports to find our place in the world, the real sportspeople to watch and learn from are professionals. It is their grit and determination.

My own belief is that one must learn how to detach from a rear view mirror. You cannot ignore what is behind you because that is your history; you must learn from it. Our experiences are unique and so is our history. It must be our greatest teacher. However, that’s where it must end. As humans, we must learn to break the proverbial rear view mirror and stop worrying about the past. You cannot change what is behind you but you can influence and change what is yet to come.

I had the good fortune of playing golf with Chester Williams (former rugby player who was the first person of color to play for the Springboks in the historic win in 1995 and sadly passed away in September 2019) more than once at the SuperSport Celebrity Golf Shootout.

Chester played his golf fearlessly; perhaps the way he led his life. He would drive the ball 300 meters and on occasion went into the woods or in deep rough. Psychologically, as golfers know, this sets you back just looking at a bad lie, an embedded or unplayable ball or a dropped shot in a hazard. For a seasoned golfer, it is not the shot that you have hit but the one that you are about to hit. Chester has a repertoire of recovery shots and always seemed to be in the game even after some wayward moments. There is a profound lesson in all of this. You have to blank your mind from the negativity or sometimes helplessness and bring a can do and positive frame of reference back into your game (and life). Hit that recovery shot well and get back in the game; that’s what champions do.

We need to now focus our attention on the next shot and try and change the future than stay in the past.

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