Squirt Cycling Ambassadors Unathi Nxumalo and Tumelo Makae will be taking part in the 2024 Absa Cape Epic for the Pump for Peace Racing Team.

We shared Tumelo’s story earlier this year and now it’s time to learn about Unathi’s story so you get to know the riders behind the helmet and glasses.

More about Unathi Nxumalo;

From the streets of Hammarsdale to racing in international competitions, Unathi’s story is one of perseverance and the belief in the positive impact that cycling can have on a community. Unathi joined the Pump for Peace Racing Team in 2023 and is not only chasing his dreams on the global cycling stage but is also dedicated to bringing the joy of cycling to the youth of his hometown. In the township of Hammarsdale, situated in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, with a history influenced by the echoes of past challenges and the harsh realities of gang violence, Unathi shares a personal journey that bridges the challenges of his upbringing with the newfound passion for cycling that shaped his life. Growing up in this community, he discovered an escape and a sense of purpose on two wheels.

Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in Hammarsdale. It’s where I started to ride a bike, where I went to primary school and to high school. In 2020 I finished Matric. I started cycling in 2016, my late dad bought me my first bike. I still have a picture of it.

How about your family?

I grew up with my parents, my sister, who is now a mother of two (one of whom is actually older than me), my late brother, and my cousin who lived with us. Unfortunately, my brother passed away in 2021, and my father fell victim to a gang-related attack in 2018.

You’re a Zulu. How would you describe the Zulu people?

I find most Zulu people to be very friendly and strong. They are open-minded, always willing to embrace new challenges.

Explain South Africa to someone who has never been there.

South Africa is a beautiful country with a rainbow of cultures and eleven official languages. It offers a diverse range of activities and boasts excellent mountain biking trails. However, not everyone here is living a high life. There are significant challenges, including a lack of educational opportunities, job shortages, and a resulting high crime rate. It’s a complex reality that defines life in South Africa

Tell us about growing up in Hammerdale?

Growing up in Hammarsdale was quite different. Unlike what you might expect in townships, there weren’t many shacks when I was a kid. But as I got older, things changed. By the time I was 15, there was more crime, especially gang violence, and it started to affect my daily life. Walking to school, which was about a kilometer away, became scary because I’d see intimidating people who could cause trouble. Even at school, there were a lot of fights and some really bad things happened – it’s hard to put into words. Gang fights were common, and I even saw someone lose their life right in front of us. Sadly, this kind of stuff happens a lot in townships, and it’s not unique to just one place; it happens everywhere.

You’ve experienced the tragic loss of family members due to gang violence:

Yes, it started with my father in 2018. He wasn’t involved in any gang conflicts. He was returning from a friend’s place when they stopped him and brutally attacked him. He had no connections with them whatsoever.

And then my brother, he lost his life in 2021, during his mid-thirties. I can’t confirm if he was associated with any gangs, as I never witnessed him carrying a weapon or being involved in violent activities. He was shot. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any justice for these incidents. The gangs responsible faced no consequences.

What are the fond memories growing up in Hammarsdale?

It was amazing going out with friends when the gang violence wasn’t so bad. It was special playing on the streets. Mostly we went out playing football and later I went cycling with my friends.

A family affair

How did you get into cycling?

I started at 10, borrowing bikes from friends. In 2014, my dad got me my first bike for fun. In 2016, I joined CODAH Cycling Club in Hammarsdale, drawn in by a friend. We had a pump track for riding and learning bike skills, and a workshop to fix bikes. It became a safe space after school, keeping us away from the streets and away from trouble like drugs – not many townships have a cycling club, so it was something unique.

When was your first race?

My inaugural race was a 10-kilometer event in 2016. Initially leading, I took a wrong turn and ended up on the 20km route, realising my mistake when I saw the other racers on the correct path. It resulted in finishing last.

Later on, the KZN Cycling Development Trust started backing the CODAH Cycling Club, providing me with a bike and more race opportunities, including the Spur MTB School Series. In 2019, Johann Waykerd, a coach with the KZN Development Trust, began coaching me along with three others in the high-performance program. Subsequently, I joined the Absolute Motion Academy, receiving significant support that enabled me to participate in major races in South Africa, such as the SA Cup races.

How has your journey been with the Pump for Peace Racing Team?

It’s been unexpected and amazing. I never thought I’d be on a team like this. Getting the news made me so happy. Looking back, it’s incredible to see where I started, the challenges I faced, and now, racing in World Cups. Riding for Pump for Peace has introduced me to fantastic people, and I’m loving every moment of it.

How is it to travel the World? You were in Switzerland, Austria, France?

Last year was my first time in Europe, and it was a mix of scary and exciting. Traveling and racing in World Cups was a dream come true for me. Standing at the starting line with so many competitors, it felt so big. I’m really happy this is happening in my life. But, it’s also challenging, especially racing overseas where the competition is tough. It’s different from what I’m used to, and watching World Cups on TV. Now, I’m out there racing, and it’s a bit scary but amazing too.

How do you think cycling can make a difference?

Cycling can bring a big change in townships. Many kids have a passion for biking, and I’d love to see cycling grow more in Hammarsdale. It’s not just about me racing; I want to see more guys on bikes.

When kids are engaged in sports like cycling, it keeps them occupied and away from negative influences. It could be a game-changer, reducing crime and preventing them from getting involved in drugs or idling on the streets. Sports, like cycling, benefit the entire community by keeping everyone active and focused.

What would you like to do for development in your hometown?

I’I’d love to bring more bikes and equipment like kits and helmets to Hammarsdale so that more kids can ride bikes. Additionally, providing support for them to participate in races is something I’m passionate about.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years and where in 20 years, maybe after your career?

IIn 10 years, I hope to be one of the best mountain bikers globally, focusing on Cross Country or Marathon events, with a dream of racing in the Olympics. After my career, I want to stay connected with cycling, contributing to community development in townships. Being involved in programs that promote cycling and doing something positive for others would be fulfilling for me, a way of giving back to the community.