Obituary: Multiple Paralympic medallist, imbokodo, Ntombizanele “Zanele” Situ Passes On

The SA sporting fraternity has woken up to the shattering news that highly decorated Paralympian Ntombizanele “Zanele” Situ has passed on. Situ will be remembered as a patriot and pioneer, and South Africa’s first black Paralympian to win a gold medal. Photo: gsport

Highly decorated Paralympian Ntombizanele “Zanele” Situ has sadly passed on. Situ made history as the first black athlete to win a Paralympic gold medal in Sydney 2000, inspiring generations and many that have been living with a disability, to realise that nothing is impossible. 

Situ has been celebrated and recognised on the Momentum gsport Awards stage numerous times, most notably, she was crowned as the Athlete of the Year with Disability at gsport13 and also received Albertina Sisulu Special Recognition Award in 2018.

CEO of SASCOC, Nozipho Jafta says Zanele was a true hero: “She was faced with adversity and hardship early in her life and overcame it, reaching the very pinnacle of Paralympic sport.”

“She was a beacon of light, and hope, for all South Africans. I’m truly saddened by the news of her passing and wish her family and loved ones every source of strength and support at such a difficult time.”

CEO of SASCOC, Nozipho Jafta

Born Ntombizanele Situ on 19 January 1971 in the Eastern Cape town of Matatiele, the daughter of the soil, was in 2003 awarded the highest recognition in South Africa, the Order of Ikhamanga (silver), for her outstanding contributions to sport by the Presidency.

The Chef de Mission at the Tokyo Games was Leon Fleiser, who is General Manager – High Performance at the South African Sports Confederation, Olympic and Paralympic Committee (SASCOC) called Situ a South African sporting legend.

“The news that Zanele has passed on is heart-breaking. We have lost a true icon of not only South African sport, but the Paralympic world has lost a legend,” said Fleiser. “I got to know her extremely well over the past 20 years or so and she was simply a delightful, kind person, who rose above unbelievable adversity to become the superstar that she was. 

“I saw her behind the scenes so many times, well away from the cameras and the attention she got. She was humble, patriotic, and a mother to a nation.”

SASCOC GM of High Performance, Leon Fleiser

“She was the flag-bearer for Team SA at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio and when she received the honour she was the proudest person on the planet. It meant a great deal to her, but the No1 priority in her life was always her daughter, Azamazi, who is now 17. ‘I am as proud of her as she is of me,’ Zanele, would say. As the years and Games went by, she would bring that motherly element to her Paralympic teammates. She was hugely popular, loved and respected,” Fleiser added.

Arguably one of the best Javelin throwers in the history of the discipline, showed her versatility and incredible prowess as an athlete and won a silver medal in discus at the 2004 Athens Paralympics.

Being the history-maker and ground shaker that she is, still at the Athens Games, she received the coveted Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, the first South African to receive this recognition. Opening doors for Natalie du Toit, who was bestowed the same honour in 2008. They are the only two South Africans who hold this gong. 

SASCOC President, Barry Hendricks, spoke glowingly of Situ: “Our heartfelt condolences and sympathy goes out to Zanele’s loved ones at this terrible time. She was a shining beacon of hope and inspiration to our sporting nation and brought immense honour to the country. Zanele’s passing comes as a terrible shock and at such a young age. All her life she had battled adversity, born into apartheid South Africa in 1971, and rising above all odds to become a six-time Paralympic and multiple Paralympic medallist. She will be mourned, celebrated and never forgotten.”

Many who thought she was done, couldn’t have been more wrong, she came back in 2016 at the Rio Paralympics in Brazil, where she was also the flag bearer, winning bronze in the javelin (F54). 

In the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics (held in 2021) she would participate in her sixth Games, stating that despite being 50, she doesn’t feel it. She had hoped that she continues but sadly, death has stolen a fighter and one of South Africa’s greatest ambassadors.


Photo Caption: The SA sporting fraternity has woken up to the shattering news that highly decorated Paralympian Ntombizanele “Zanele” Situ has passed on. Situ will be remembered as a patriot and pioneer, and South Africa’s first black Paralympian to win a gold medal. Photo: gsport

File Photo: “She was a beacon of light, and hope, for all South Africans,” said Nozipho Jafta, CEO of SASCOC. “She was faced with adversity and hardship early in her life and overcame it, reaching the very pinnacle of Paralympic sport.”

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