TO BE A CHAMPION – 2015

A 48 minute documentary on the 2013 / 2014 National Jockey Championship & what it took for 28-yr-old S’manga Khumalo to be the first Black jockey to take the title.

At the annual gala Equus Awards – hosted at Emperor’s Palace in August this year – 28 year old, S’manga Khumalo became the first Black jockey ever to take the South African National Jockey Championship when he was crowned Champion Jockey for the 2013 / 14 racing season.

To take the national jockey championship you must ride more winners in a season than any other jockey in South Africa.

The season begins on the 1st August & ends on the 31st July the following year.

In South Africa there are race meetings every single day of the year – except Christmas day.

To chase the championship – it’s a gruelling year – travelling between racing centres across the country riding between 5 to 7 days a week for the 12 month season.

“To Be A Champion” is the story of the 2013 / 14 National Jockey Championship and what it took for 28-yr-old S’manga Khumalo to become the first Black South African ever – to take the title.

It’s a challenging 12 month ride where at any turn along the way fate steps in and changes the course of events irrevocably.

Tuesday 2nd June 2014 started out as a routine mid-week race meeting at the Vaal Race-course in Gauteng.

With eight weeks to go before the end of the 2014 season, S’manga Khumalo is 20 winners ahead of his nearest rival Richard Fourie.

In third place lies veteran champion, Piere Strydom some 35 winners behind Khumalo.

Taking the first race on the filly Peep Show, it’s looks to be the start of a good day for jockey S’manga Khumalo.

But, from nowhere fate steps in and it’s a black day for the would be champion.

Her first time at the races – past the post – the inexperienced filly Peep Show ducks in sharply towards the rail, and in the process throws S’manga off her back and onto the railing.

Stabilised in the First Aid Room – as he lies semi-conscious awaiting the ambulance to take him to hospital – with the Championship within his grasp & scheduled to ride in the prestigious Durban July Handicap the forth-coming Saturday – for S’manga Khumalo – suddenly, there’s a lot hanging in the balance.

One of five siblings, S’manga Khumalo was born on 29th November, 1985 and grew up in “L” section Kwa-Mashu Township outside of Durban.

This was the final decade of the Apartheid era & in 1990, after 27 years on Robben Island & in Victor Verster Prison – Nelson Mandela was finally released from his incarceration.

In the run-up to the first democratic elections – from 1990 to 1994 – black communities across the country experienced the most violent conflict in South Africa’s history.

The rural and township areas of Natal in particular – were ravaged by violent conflict between the ANC and Inkatha – fuelled by elements of the ruling regime and an insidious so-called “third-force” – hell bent on derailing the forthcoming transition to democracy.

Thousands of innocent black civilians lost their lives.

In the midst of this carnage, S’manga was a young boy attending primary school in Kwa Mashu,

Like many champions before him, in 2001 – at the age of sixteen – S’manga Khumalo started his career as a young apprentice at the South African Jockey Academy at Summerveld in Kwa Zulu Natal.

In his third year at the Academy, S’manga became the family bread-winner and urged his mother to give up her job as a domestic worker.

In appreciation for her devotion & committed struggle as a single-parent, in 2011, S’manga bought his mother the house of her dreams in the neighbourhood of her choice.

On Saturday 6th July 2013, before a home-crowd of some 60 000 people – S’manga Khumalo, the home-boy from Kwa-Mashu Township outside Durban – became the first black South African jockey ever – to take the prestigious Durban July Handicap – on the gelding Heavy Metal.

At the time – South Africans were in deep reflection – as past-President and father of the nation Nelson Mandela lay critically ill.

In his post-race interview, S’manga dedicated his win to ‘Tata Madiba’ –
“because, you know, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him”.

S’manga’s win in the Durban July was a great moment – both for the country and for Khumalo himself.

Plagued with falls & serious injuries – at an all time low – in March 2012, S’manga was ready to hang up his riding boots & give it all up.

But a chance heart-to-heart with a retired jockey & mentor convinced S’manga to pull himself together, face his fear & get back into the saddle with a determined and focussed outlook.

Back on the come-back trail, in the next season S’manga became the first jockey ever to take three of South Africa’s big four feature races in one season.

With his mind set on taking the 2013 / 14 championship, S’manga would have one final obstacle to overcome –a sixty-day suspension handed down to him by the Stipendary Stewards. If implemented, S’manga would be overtaken in the race for the Championship & it would be all over.

This is the story of S’manga Khumalo and what it took for him to become the first Black South African ever to take the National Jockey Championship.