"I explained what it's for but they didn't believe me. Only after my mother came to show them pictures of me fighting and some of my fencing certificates did they let me go. Now they just laugh when they drive past me walking down the street."

Getting to the Tyshler Fencing School in Randburg also is a regular exercise in gags and guffaws: "They (taxi drivers) crack jokes and wants to know if we're carrying body bags. When we tell them what we're doing they say things like: 'That's good to know because I have a fence that needs fixing'."

But the cousins can live with the laughter at their expense. The socioeconomic challenges they face, though, are no joke. Their gear; the breeches, canvas-like jackets, plastron or chest guard, gloves, wire-mesh helmets, shoes and swords - besides the épée and sabre there's also the foil - all costs a packet and are nigh impossible to afford for a pupil and a student sharing a three-room house in Diepkloof.

Manzini's invitation to Moscow would've remained a pipe dream had it not been for the generosity of Gerhard Rudolph, a veteran national colours fencer.

Maluleke also has no qualms about pointing out that everything he and Manzini own in the line of fencing are hand-me-downs or have been donated to them. Money is so tight Maluleke doesn't know how he's going to participate in the national championships in Bloemfontein at the end of the month. Missing it, though, just because he can't afford the travel and accommodation is also not an option: "I'm currently ranked fourth in the country and if I win against one of the top three guys" - Wood, New or Maduma - "I could make it to the international championships next year."

Without a sponsor, Maluleke faces an uphill battle.

"It's not so bad for juniors," he says while Manzini looks on quizzically. "But once you're an adult fencer, the money tends to dry up."

The last time Maluleke was a beneficiary of substantial funding in the furtherance of his fencing was when international fencing body Fédération Internationale D'Escrime paid for him to attend an instructor's course in Dakar.

On his return, Maluleke, coaching certificate in hand, arranged with a local primary school to open Soweto's second school for aspiring swordsmen - and women, of course ("swords people " just doesn't do it).

Although Ekuthuleni Fencing Club is still in its infancy, its membership is steadily growing, especially among starry-eyed youngsters with a flair for fanciful fighting such as the stuff beamed to them through martial arts movies.

Had he approached his old high school, Maluleke would probably still be called "Zorro - "But I don't mind. It's when we're subjected to racism that I really get upset. Sometimes people jeer at us saying things like: 'Why are you doing this. It's a white sport. Where do you get the money from?'"

At another tournament, the black fencers got together to indulge in a communal lunch, a popular custom, when a white competitor told them to clean up the mess: "This is not the location."

What he wants the most, says Maluleke, who has been at it for six years, is respect and recognition. "I don't want to be known as a black fencer. I want to be a fencer who represents his country, that's all."

   

 

 

 
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