Twins’ Lives Turned Around by Cricket and Gela Productions

Life has never been easy for 15-year-old twins Thulani and Thuthukani Chiliza. For years, they lived in a shack on a steep bank near a railway track in Umlazi, with their mother Cindy. Then, in May 2016, heavy rains wreaked havoc in their lives, washing away their home and everything else they owned. The twins and their mother sought refuge at a community centre in the township, sharing a single room with over fifty other people for several months.

Through all the turbulence, one aspect of the twins’ lives remained consistent: their love for cricket. Both boys were introduced to the game as primary school learners, by the KZNCU, DSR and Sunfoil Township and Rural Development Programme, and developed an instant affinity for it, never missing practices even at the most trying of times.

When Sandile Ivin Magoso, the managing director of Gela Productions, a television production company, encountered the Chiliza brothers, he was deeply moved.

“Since 2013, Gela Productions has been producing a magazine show for broadcast that highlights the Township Schools Tournament hosted by the KZNCU, DSR and Sunfoil Township and Rural Development Programme,” says Magoso. “We have seen the programme and the tournament grow substantially in that time, and each year, we delve deeper into the lives of a few of the promising boys, so that we can give viewers more insight into their backgrounds and look at how being part of township cricket development has positively impacted their lives.”

“For the 2016 edition of the tournament one of the township-based coaches recommended the Chiliza brothers as subjects to focus on for our magazine show, and that’s how I came to know about them.”

Impressed by the dedication, discipline and passion the Chilizas displayed towards cricket, Magoso chatted to Sanelisiwe Kuzwayo, the programme manager about how he could assist them. His timing could not have been more perfect. The Chilizas were nearing the end of grade seven and Kuzwayo had been deliberating the matter of high school. “On the one hand they are talented cricketers,” she explains. “But on the other hand, they were not excelling academically which meant that it would not be possible for them to qualify for a scholarship at a traditional cricket school.” (The programme has successfully enrolled several boys who show both cricketing and academic potential on bursary programmes at various schools in KZN). Kuzwayo felt that Umlazi Comtech High School would be the most feasible option for the twins, but being a boarding school, fees were an obstacle. Until Sandile Magoso and Gela Productions came along and agreed to cover the full cost of their high schooling.

“The coach who recommended them (to be interviewed for the programme) singled them out because of the talent and potential they displayed on the cricket field,” Magoso recalls, explains why he took the decision to assist Thulani and Thuthukani. “The boys were in their early teens, and their personal circumstances were extremely difficult and taxing, yet they were able to show such dedication, discipline and passion in sport. Maybe this was a way to deal with their hardship, or an escape from it, but they were able to overcome their situation and show great promise in cricket, that’s what really struck me about their story.”

According to Sandile Simelane, the coach who recommended that Thulani and Thuthukani – having coached the brothers since they were 10 and 12 respectively – Gela Production’s gesture has benefitted the boys in various ways. “Firstly, they know they can focus on excelling at school and cricket as their environment is now more conducive to them doing so,” he says. “Secondly they have cricket facilities at the school so they can train any time they want to hone their skills.”

“Cricket has been a game changer for them,” he adds. “They love the sport, and through it they have been able to travel out of Umlazi. Now cricket has also given them a chance at better schooling. Gela Productions should never be forgotten for giving them that chance. I will forever be grateful to them and I’m sure I echo their mum’s sentiments in this regard.” – by Fatima Asmal