On behalf of Dr Mathews Phosa, it is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Mr Ephraim Mohlakane, Special Olympics South Africa board member, athlete leader, 2-time World Games medallist, husband, father and friend.
There are no words to for us to describe our pain upon learning of the death of our loved one.
Ephraim was born in Katlehong on the East Rand in South Africa. He never knew his father, who abandoned the family when Ephraim was little. He, his mother and his little brother are all have an intellectual disability, and life was very difficult for them, but Ephraim even then showed courage and determination.
In an interview with Humans of New York, Ephraim described his journey as follows:
“It was a problem with my memory. I couldn’t remember things. Everyone else my age was moving forward, and I kept staying behind. My heart was very sore. I loved school. I wanted to be a doctor and a lawyer just like everyone else. I kept asking God: ‘Why is this happening to me?’ I tried my best. I even went to night school. But eventually my teachers said they didn’t want to waste my time. They sent me to a school to learn handwork.
That’s where I learned about Special Olympics. I was an angry young man back then. I could not accept my situation. But one day I met Arnold Schwarzenegger when he came to South Africa for an event. I told him my entire story, and he said: ‘Look here, I am the Terminator, but today I am your friend. Listen to me. You are not strong in academics, but that is just one thing. It’s nothing to worry about. You are a very strong man. You can’t hate yourself for the rest of your life. It is time for you to move on.
From that moment I began to accept myself!”
Ephraim began helping to support his family by working in the workshop at the Hamlet Foundation, and it was here that he joined Special Olympics and became a skilled athlete—participating in athletics, five-a-side football and floor hockey. Through Special Olympics, he started travelling the world from the age of 16 years old, representing South Africa when his talents on the sports field earned him a place on the Special Olympics South Africa World Games teams.
However, it was Ephraim’s leadership ability, which he developed in the Athlete Leadership Program, that really allowed him to excel and to take his place as widely respected athlete leader in the movement both nationally and globally.
In 2002, Ephraim was chosen as a Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger for Special Olympics representing the Africa Region, and travelled the world representing the Special Olympics movement.
In Ireland at the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin, Ephraim was selected to introduce the former late President of South Africa, Mr Nelson Mandela, at the Opening Ceremony.
In 2005 Ephraim was elected by his fellow athletes to be the Chairperson of the Global Athlete Congress, a body representing all the athletes of the Special Olympics movement.
In 2007, Ephraim joined the Special Olympics South Africa board of directors where he remained, until today, as a pivotal member of the leadership of the programme which saw it grow into a national movement representing over 55 000 athletes in all 9 provinces.
Most recently Ephraim travelled to the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in the UAE to assist with the South African National Team and then to Dublin, Ireland to attend the Athlete Leadership Workshop.
Ephraim was employed as a full-time coach at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School where he coached basketball, soccer, floor hockey, and athletics. Ephraim was instrumental in developing the relationship between St Benedicts and Special Olympics and leaves a lasting legacy of inclusion at the school.
Ephraim leaves behind his beautiful wife Nobantu, his son Tumi, and their last born daughter Naledi. Ephraim was a devoted father and husband and was very proud of his children. Ephraim’s quote from the interview by Humans of New York demonstrates the deep love and pride he had for his children;
“I now have everything in life except for academics. I work hard. I have a house. I have a family. I have a career as a soccer coach. My son attends the same school where I work—and he is very smart. I make sure he does all his assignments. When he struggles I bring him to his teachers so they can lift him up. I tell him: Tumi, I never finished school. But God is amazing. He has made you strong where I am weak.”
We would like to send our deepest heartfelt condolences to the Mohlakane family, we will hold you all in our hearts and in our prayers.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has commemorated his leadership in the post below:
I just heard the news that my friend Ephraim passed away. My thoughts are with his family, and I hope his wife and children can take comfort in knowing that Ephraim isn’t gone- his inspiration and energy lives on with all of us who knew him. When we met for the first time at the Special Olympics in South Africa 19 years ago, and when we met again last year to catch up, Ephraim talked about how much I inspired him. But if I had to say who left each meeting more inspired, it was definitely me.
He had such a big heart, he loved his family more than anything, and he was constantly giving back through Special Olympics South Africa and by coaching kids. He had the best attitude, choosing to focus on what he could do rather than complaining about what he couldn’t. And he did so much.
I have been lucky enough to meet a lot of my heroes, and I was so lucky to add Ephraim to that list, not once, but twice. I hope that his children grow up knowing what a great man their dad was. All of us can learn from his example.
Rest in peace Ephraim, the legacy you have left behind will forever live on in the hearts of all those you have touched and in the opportunities that you have helped create for all the athletes that will follow you.
You are and will forever be missed. We love you!