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How Norman “Nhonho” Mbiko transformed his Nyanga home

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A legendary Bok scrumhalf has turned a one-room house, bought in the 1980s, into a beautiful family home

Although the more modern Nyanga East is best known for producing celebrities, a house in the Old Location is bucking the trend. It is here where the first black Springbok to emerge from the area, Norman “Nhonho” Mbiko, lives.

The legendary 73-year-old former scrumhalf and his wife, affectionately known as Sis Ken, have made their home in a stunning facebrick house with well-manicured lawn and trees.

Mbiko, who has received many accolades for his contribution to rugby, bought the house for R72 000 in the 1980s.

Today it is worth about R500000, not only because of the growth in property prices in the Western Cape, but also because of the extensive work the Mbiko family has put into the home.

“I have a big house today because although the houses built to accommodate black people during the Group Areas Act era were small, like a box of matches, the yards had plenty of space. I used that to my advantage. This was the last area in which they built houses with big yards.”

Rugby photos and memorabilia are displayed in the house. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

The house was originally a one-room structure. Mbiko extended around it and now it has six rooms, including two full sitting rooms.

To anyone thinking of extending, he advises: “Extend bit by bit until it becomes what you want.”

The home has two entrances. The first is in the front, facing the gate. The main entrance, used by the family, is around the back via the kitchen. This is where Sis Ken cooks and boils vegetables for her husband. “He likes cauliflower. I cook him green stuff every day so he can stay healthy,” she says.

Just past the kitchen is the main sitting room with a big table for family and friends, including Mbiko’s two sons – Melvin, 44, and Mark, 36 – nephew Lazola Mbiko and Jenny Fortuin, a helper.

The Mbikos’ third son, Jeromy, was shot dead in 1995.

The couple met in Paarl while Mbiko was on a rugby tour in 1971, and they married in 1973.

Their lounge consists of three large maroon couches facing the front door. The walls are adorned with photos documenting the illustrious career of this legend. There is another sitting room for relaxed gatherings, and a smaller room next to it. “And in the summer, we make a fire outside to braai,” says Sis Ken.

Behind the main lounge, other rooms are close to one another, joined together by a long passage.

The main bedroom faces the back yard. It is spacious, with wardrobes covering three-quarters of the walls. The couple’s bed faces a large window so they have a sunny outlook.

The couple’s bed faces a window to ensure a sunny outlook. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

All the rugby jerseys Mbiko wore during his heyday, and his green Springbok blazers, are stored in the bedroom wardrobes.

Mbiko, who unlike many rugby players is not a large man, was the first black Springbok to emerge from Nyanga.

“I played scrumhalf for black Springboks. Whites did not want us to play rugby. They wanted black people to play soccer only. I proved them wrong.”

His contribution to the game paid off in 2000 when he became the first black coach for the Springbok Sevens.

“The current Blitzbokke coach, Neil Powell, is my product, the prduct of my training. It makes me so proud every time I watch him on the touchline.”

Next to the main bedroom is a spacious bathroom with bath tub and a mix of grey and cream tiles on the floor and walls.

Mbiko says living anywhere but Nyanga has never crossed his mind.

“I came here when I was 14 years old. I grew up here. I bought this house and extended it so I can stay here,” he says.

The house is painted a creamy white, Mbiko’s favourite shade, to give it a distinctive look, he says. “I don’t like a mixture of colours. It confuses the eye. I like the one colour because it is easy to see when it needs to be maintained. Bra Nhonho” is adored and respected in the area. I played a huge role in this area, both in sport and socially,” he says.

“There was a gang called Spoilers terrorising the community in the 1980s. I dismantled it by recruiting their leader into rugby. In turn, he recruited other members. That was the end of it,” he says.

In 1993, he formed the Lagunya – which is short for Langa, Gugulethu and Nyanga – Rugby Association. “The aim was to create a rugby union for blacks to prove to whites that we can love and play the game.

“In no time we reached the skill levels of our Western Province counterparts.” He says his sons also played rugby. “Although they never reached my level, I am still proud of them.”

Mbiko also has a soft spot for animals. “I have two dogs, Bobby and Danger. I love dogs. They communicate with me.”

We could not leave without asking what he thinks of the current rugby squad. Mbiko replies he is thrilled with the team. “I like the fact that we have a black captain in Siya Kolisi. Transformation is really taking place.”

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