Despite winning three gold medals and making his country proud at the recent All Africa Games (AAG) in the Republic of Congo, para-athlete Ananias Shikongo is back to reality – a life of joblessness and countless hardships.
Shikongo and his team scooped a record 14 medals at the AAG in Congo-Brazzaville, where Namibia came seventh overall, but the visually impaired part-time athlete is still unable to find employment.
Shikongo said it was the first time Namibia raked in so many medals from a single event. The group brought home five gold medals, two of which were won by Johanna Benson and John Nambala.
When the triple-gold medalist arrived at Hosea Kutako International Airport (HKIA) two weeks ago, there was not a single official from the Namibia Sports Commission, or anyone from the Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Service to welcome him, as has been the case with many able-bodied athletes.
When the national football team, the Brave Warriors, won the Cosafa Cup in May they were accorded a warm welcome, including a luncheon hosted by President Hage Geingob at State House and the players received N$50 000 each as a token of appreciation for their impressive showing in South Africa, where they saw off feared contenders, such as Zambia.
But for Shikongo, a visually impaired continental champion in three different categories, it is a different story. “People living with disabilities are not counted. We’re just doing this for mahala (free of charge),” he said emotionally. “For example, able-bodied athletes are recruited into the police or Namibian Defence Force, but not us. Our guides were recently recruited into the correctional services,” said Shikongo from his home in Goreangab informal settlement.
Photos of him and his guide, Sem Simanda, taken at the AAG hang in his matchbox shack. Shikongo explained that his guide is like a driver and keeps him in line. “He is not going to be slower or faster than me. You have to have the same pace. If he is in front of you, you will be disqualified.” He said the guide also makes sure the starting blocks are in position and tells him when to stop running.
He is waiting to hear if the AAG will reward him monetarily. “Otherwise we are just at home. We urge our ministry (sports) to give us jobs.”
Shikongo said he recently went to the police headquarters seeking employment, but was told they do not employ disabled people. “At the end of the day, we do things for the country, but we are just on the streets,” he lamented, adding that he has completed a course in marketing and knows how to operate a switchboard.
In addition, Shikongo said they are facing the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Championship in Doha Qatar but he is struggling with taxi money to go for training. He currently spends N$ 30 per day on taxi fare.“If you’ve not eaten then you will not train that day,” he told New Era.
“There is nowhere we can get money. We depend on our grant and from that we buy food, support ourselves, our parents and relatives,” said the father of one.
How he lost his sight
Shikongo was born at Okankolo in the Oshikoto Region. “I was born sighted, but when I was four years old, I was shot in one eye with a bow and arrow and became blind. When I reached the age of seven the remaining eye was kicked out by a donkey. I became totally blind and dropped out of school.”
In 1994 his parents took him to Engela Rehabilitation Centre for counselling. “It was the first time for my mother to have a blind child and while others went to school I was at home,” he recalls.
He said the following year he was enrolled at Eluwa Special School in Ongwediva where he started participating in sports. “I was running and doing long jump.” He said he was the fastest athlete at school and the teachers encouraged him. He thereafter participated in various games and in 2004 represented his school in South Africa, where he won a silver medal in the 200-metre race.