About 800,000 people were killed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and thousands were displaced. For every massacred adult, there were innocent children who were stripped of their parents and whose childhoods were interrupted. Twenty-year-old Emmanuel Sebareme now plays for the Western Province cricket team and has been selected for the U21 South African football team as well. He had to jump through fences to get there, starting when he was four years old.
“Because of the genocide my parents were forced to flee the country and they ended up in a refugee camp in Congo, and that’s where I was born. They had to move from one country to another seeking refuge,” he recalls.
It wasn’t long before they were forced to move again.
“We stayed in Malawi for two years. I found friends there and got to learn their culture, and learnt French as well. The poverty was too strong there, and my father was in South Africa looking for work at that time. We had to leave just when I thought I was settling in. I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to my friends, we just left.” He believes KwaZulu-Natal was their first stop in South Africa.
Things got more hectic in SA.
“We moved from one place to another seeking refuge. We had so many encounters and at one point the villagers told cops that we were hiding there. The police came with guns and they came to harass us. It’s one memory I can’t get out of my mind.”
Emmanuel’s parents may have been searching for a good place to stay but they couldn’t live comfortably in poverty.
“I met my cousins in Durban where we stayed for three months before deciding to move to a refugee house in Cape Town and that’s where things got better for us. I started attending school and I think am very blessed to have gotten through all that hardship. There were other Rwandans there as well so I felt welcomed and I got to learn about the culture there so I didn’t get lost,”
Emmanuel’s hidden talent began to emerge, and started blossoming like a seed that had been buried underground.
“In Primary I started playing soccer and I was winning awards getting Sportsman of the Year top scorer awards. Soccer season would close but I never liked staying home. I would just go to the field to check what is going on. I saw these guys playing cricket and they seemed like they really enjoyed it, and so I joined,” he adds that he always got a beating for getting home late from practises.
“I decided I wanted do this thing (cricket) and I’ve been doing well ever since. I went to attend my high school at Steenberg High because of their good reputation for sports, and there I was the captain of the school team. I went to U17 Western Province play-offs but unfortunately I wasn’t picked.”
But it obviously wasn’t going to take one rejection to put a talented man down.
“I was discouraged but my mom told me that failure is not there to destroy but to encourage us to do better and so I went to the play-offs again the following year and I got selected! I felt proud. I felt I could motivate my teammates as well. If I could do it they could also do it. I was first person in a long time to come from the Retreat community team to the Provincial Cricket Team.” Emmanuel currently stays in Retreat, Cape Town.
Emmanuel’s sport career was just getting off the ground because he later on played for the U19s as well.
“Even when my mates didn’t train I’d train on my own. People didn’t believe in me but I just surprised everyone. I knew that if I put my time and effort I’d succeed and it paid off. During the day I’d practise and study at night because I was in matric. You can’t rely solely on sport, you need something to fall back on if it doesn’t work out.”
As if his cricket ball wasn’t flying high enough, Emmanuel passed his matric with flying colours.
“I wasn’t getting anything after matric. I got an email informing me that I needed to prepare. I was being selected for the senior team. I thought they were just short of right-armed spinner bowlers and I would be standing in for someone. To my surprise, I was selected to play in that same week.”
Emmanuel’s hard-work just elevated him while his counter-parts were taking the stairs.
“It’s rare to see someone come from straight out of school to the senior team. It usually takes players three years to get a call up so I was fortunate. It takes hard-work. I tried to get close to the guys that play for the national team so I could learn a lot from them. I’ve prayed a lot about it. Work hard and be ready for the opportunity when it comes cos you’ll never know when it will present itself. Just do your part and everything else will fall into place.”
Just when he thought his hard-work was sufficiently rewarded, more rewards poured in.
“I got a scholarship from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) called ‘Sport Skills for Life Skills’. The scholarship is an opportunity to improve your cricket and get your degree as well. It covers everything that I need from my tuition fees to my sporting kit. The environment was different but I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else but to UWC. I’m very thankful for their support.” He’s currently a second year student at UWC studying for a Bachelor of Commerce Degree (B.Com.).
At this rate, not even a goal keeper could keep Emmanuel from reaching his goals.
“Football was my first love. I still want to be a football player, and in 2015 I said I should focus on my academics so I don’t lose my scholarship. I said I should play football for fun, but my coach said I needed to play for the Varsity Cup because I can’t hide what I have. I’ve been recently selected to play in the SA Under21 team. I just seem to surprise people cos they usually expect little or nothing from me. I keep it simple,” he adds.
He attributes his success to his humble beginnings.
“When I look at how my family started I never thought my life would go in this direction, I constantly asked myself if I’d get out of that place but I thank God every day. I always pray to God cos that’s where my talent comes from, he’s the one who gave me this talent and he knew I’d use it to get my family out of the place we were in and motivate other people.”
As a young athlete who values education, Emmanuel has a word of advice.
“Balancing sport and your academic work is important. The world has evolved and there are more athletes now, more than before, and that means not everyone will succeed through sport. Sometimes your talent will be overlooked but no one can take away your degree. Down the line you might have a career-ender-injury, so what will happen to you then if you have no education?
“I want people to know it doesn’t matter where you come from and what your circumstances are right now, always pray to God. He’s there working in silence and will answer your prayers when you least expect it. Always believe you can achieve anything. Pray a lot and tell yourself you can do this,” he concludes.