The basketball player courting success after escaping a brutal war
Sport has the power to change the world – in ways both big and small. After Archange Kalonji lost everything, he found healing and a future on a basketball court. He was just six when his father decided to give his family the chance of a better life in South Africa, leaving the Democratic Republic of Congo to escape the violent consequences of political unrest. They settled in Yeoville in 2003, where Kalonji whiled away his time playing soccer, his favourite sport. His only English word? A simple hello. But he knew enough to understand the unwelcoming looks and the derogatory slurs thrown his way. His struggle was just beginning.
In 2004, Kalonji’s father passed away from meningitis. He was Kalonji’s biggest supporter, and the child lost all desire to pursue sport with the same enthusiasm, even when his family moved to Durban to start afresh. “I lost a male figure in my life,” Kalonji says. “I had nobody to look up to and this led me on to the wrong path.” After joining a crowd involved in shoplifting and drugs, Kalonji nearly hit rock bottom – until he saw a team of kids playing basketball at a church next to where he lived. Curious, he took to the court and kept coming back. He attended trials for the junior team at primary school and was selected for both the school’s and the province’s U13 team. It was the start of something great. PeacePlayers International SA, a Laureus Sports for Good project, noticed his developing talent and took him under their wing. Kalonji’s dogged determination to make the most of this opportunity resulted in a basketball scholarship to Durban High School, where became the youngest player to join the first team at the age of 14.
“We all have known loss in one way or another,” Kalonji says. “It’s how we overcome it that makes each of us champions.” After matriculating, the young sportsman chose to go back to the organisation that gave him a second chance, where he now coaches basketball. “I want to help other kids like me to nourish their talent and help them have the same opportunities as what I have received,” he says. As a PeacePlayers coach, he gets to work closely with primary school kids who like him, find chances in sport. “Just yesterday I faced death, and today my future is bright,” Kalonji says.