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Akhona Kunene

Soft heart, strong faith

Akhona Kunene

Akhona Kunene’s parents are hard-working people. His dad, Greg, is in construction, and his mom, Nonjabulo, is a nurse. Neither have permanent work.

“I remember watching my parents leaving [me at Hilton College for the first time]. I had never seen my mom cry. I wanted to burst into tears. Then I went upstairs to 15 people I had never seen in my life. I said a prayer in my heart. I wanted this opportunity. It was time to see what I could do with it.”

The Grade 12 learner is from Hammarsdale township, about 10 kilometres outside Cato Ridge in KwaZulu-Natal, and having earned a scholarship to Hilton College has changed the trajectory of his life, and his family’s.

“Seeing me come here, my little sister Anelisa believed she could also go to a great school and now she’s at Epworth.”

One of three children – he also has an older brother – Akhona describes his family as “very tight” and says his goal is to take them on an overseas holiday.

“In Hammarsdale, children tend to walk the streets, which are dangerous. We had to stay inside. That helped us siblings a lot, and we bonded.

“At Hilton I’ve made life-long friends, especially with the boys in my house. I would do anything for them and I’m confident they would do the same for me.”

Before coming to Hilton, Akhona went to Hillcrest Primary, where he excelled at rugby. “In Grade 7, I made U13 Craven Week. I had heard of people getting rugby scholarships and so I thought that if I could go to a prestigious school, it could enhance my talent.”

Soft-hearted and strong in faith, Akhona says rugby at Hilton College is “fun”. In Grade 10 he made Grant Khomo Week but in his Grade 11 year, last year, he was disappointed not to make the 1st XV.

“It was tough. I remember feeling negative. Then in a training session I encountered Mr [Cameron] Fraser (deputy housemaster of Lucas and 2nd XV coach). He just revived my love of rugby! The way he did things. It was just so much fun. He saw, of course, that I was unhappy about playing 2nd team. He said to me, ‘You have a chance to change it. You still have 12 weeks. Show your talents.’ I went on to play for the 1st team – against Pretoria Boys High and Glenwood – tough games that we won.”

Akhona hopes to play professional rugby. “I just want to do what I love and help people in the township. And I don’t want my family to ever have to worry about money again.”

His rugby role model is Siya Kolisi. “What he went through as a young kid… And he is still so humble. He never puts himself above anyone. I want to be the same. If I do well, I want to give back.”

When asked what he would say to his 13-year-old self on his arrival at HC, Akhona says: “Take a deep breath. You will fit in. There are some really great people here. Don’t forget where you come from. Take the opportunity with both hands: put in the work, go to the extra lessons, go to gym. And be kind to everyone.”

With a pure heart and a faith that can move mountains, Akhona will shine all his days and be a role model to many.

This is the 10th post in our Humans of Hilton College (#HOHC) series, inspired by the lovely human beings in our community. They are people of character and often behind the scenes: kind, curious and sometimes quirky. #HOHC is modelled on Humans of New York