Paralympian Ntombizanele “Zanele” Situ, a legendary figure in South African sports, passed away at the age of 52. Situ, known for her remarkable achievements, including being the first black South African to win Paralympic gold at the 2000 Sydney Games, and for her determination to continue competing even at the age of 50 during the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2021, left a lasting legacy in the world of Paralympic athletics.
Zanele Situ, originally from Matatiele, South Africa, was a two-time world javelin champion and a four-time medalist. She secured two gold medals in the javelin in 2000 and 2004, a silver medal in the discus in 2000, and a bronze medal in the javelin in 2016. Her remarkable achievements and her status as a pioneer in Paralympic sports made her an inspirational figure for athletes and fans alike.
Situ’s impact extended beyond her remarkable athletic achievements. In an interview with Eyewitness News, she shared her perspective on the Sydney Games, stating that “race was not a big factor” for her, but what truly mattered was the celebration of athletic performance and the hope she could inspire in others.
In 2004, at the Paralympics in Athens, Zanele Situ was awarded the prestigious Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, which recognizes athletes who demonstrate sporting excellence and the spirit of the games. She was one of only two South Africans to receive this honor, with Natalie du Toit receiving it in 2008.
Situ’s passing has left the South African sports community in mourning. The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) expressed their condolences to her family. Barry Hendricks, president of SASCOC, described her as a “true South African hero” who overcame adversity and reached the pinnacle of Paralympic sport. Nozipho Jafta, CEO of SASCOC, hailed her as a “beacon of light and hope” for all South Africans.
Zanele Situ’s journey was marked by resilience and determination. At the age of 11, she experienced weakness in her legs, leading to her inability to walk. A diagnosis of tuberculosis in her spine left her paralyzed from the waist down. Despite these challenges, she went on to achieve great success in the world of Paralympic sports, becoming a source of inspiration for countless individuals.
Some of the highlights of her career included her first overseas trip in 1996, where she realized the global presence of differently-abled athletes excelling in their respective sports. She also cherished the memory of the opening ceremony at the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games, where countries came together in the spirit of unity and Team South Africa demonstrated their strength with over 150 athletes.
In the 2016 Rio Paralympics, Zanele Situ achieved a personal best in the javelin, earning a bronze medal. Despite her fifth-place finish in the Tokyo Olympics, she had her sights set on representing South Africa at the Paris 2024 Paralympics.
Zanele Situ’s legacy is one of perseverance, inspiration, and a testament to the power of the human spirit in overcoming adversity. Her remarkable journey and accomplishments continue to inspire the world of Paralympic sports and beyond.