15 August 2013
South African-based Team Bonitas appointed Luthando Kaka as their new team captain on Wednesday, making him the first black South African to lead a professional cycling team.
For the 27-year-old, the appointment was unexpected, but for the team management, there wasn’t really any doubt about putting their faith in a man who is one of the biggest success stories in South African sports development.
Kaka began his bike-racing career as a member of the Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy, the township-based cycling club in Khayelitsha, near Cape Town. He progressed rapidly and was named as captain of South Africa’s first full-time development cycling team, the Liberty Life Cycling Team.
He then became the first black South African to race professionally abroad when he was signed to Danish professional team, Glued & Marstrand Horsens, in 2008 and 2009, after which he was signed to Team Bonitas.
Malcolm Lange, of Lange Sports, the company that owns and manages Team Bonitas, commented in a statement on Wednesday: “I had very few opportunities when I raced as a professional road cyclist. I know how tough it can be for talented riders to make a career out of bike racing. For talented black riders in South Africa, it’s even tougher. That’s why with Team Bonitas, we place high priority on creating opportunities for riders that show potential and commitment. Luthando is one of those riders.”
Kaka has been a member of Team Bonitas since 2010 and is regarded as a very reliable super-domestique, essentially the glue that holds the team together.
“I was a surprised to be given this honour at this relatively early stage of my career, but not surprised that Barry Austin, our team manager and Malcolm Lange, our team owner, had this progressive plan in place,” Kaka said in a statement.
“They aren’t afraid to break with traditional practices and have been hugely supportive of developing young riders in particular and black riders in general.
“When I joined the team almost four years ago, I was the second-youngest rider. Now I’m one of the oldest and most experienced. At 27 years of age, that shows just how committed Team Bonitas is to young talent. I look forward to transferring my knowledge to my young teammates and am committed to leading this team to even greater success.”
Lange, a former multiple national champion in track and road cycling and Barcelona Olympian, added: “At Lange Sports, we’ve always made cycling development a high priority. There is so much young cycling talent in this country and the real challenge is creating opportunities and a support system for young riders to shine.
“In Luthando we have a role model, both on the bike and off it. He is an athlete that transcends his sport due to the tough path he’s taken to live his dream of being a pro cyclist. He’s an achiever and an inspiration not only to black cyclists, but all young cyclists.
“He’s proof that commitment and hard work are still strong values, especially in a team sport like road cycling.”
Kaka praised Team Bonitas, saying: “In South African cycling, up until quite recently actually, black riders were signed to teams more as a window-dressing strategy, but with Team Bonitas, there’s a sustainability strategy that’s got long term investment in black riders as it’s guiding principle.”
Kaka, who is also a qualified journalist and a member of the board of Life Cycling Academy, now lives in Johannesburg and hasn’t let his success affect his awareness of the challenges still being faced by black cyclists from poor communities. He returns at least four times a year to Khayelitsha where he gives motivational talks and training advice to the hopeful young riders at the Academy and goes on training rides with them.
“They need mentorship. They need hope. When I was at that stage of my cycling [career], I would have loved to have a pro rider that understood my challenges coming regularly to our club to keep me motivated and remind me that making a career out of cycling is not easy, but it’s worth it,” smiled Kaka.
In 2011, he was listed by Destiny Man Magazine as one of its Power of 40, individuals under the age of 40, who are making waves in various industries, including fashion, science, education, film, sport and entertainment. Last year, he was selected by the South African Department of Sport and Recreation as one of the top 100 most influential sports people in the country.
“Lu”, as he is known to his friends and teammates, was born in the Western Cape and spent three years from the ages of five to eight in the Eastern Cape near the town of Alice, where he helped his grandparents as a cattle herder before moving back to the Western Cape to attend school.
“Us black folk need to do some family work growing up. It’s part of our culture,” grinned Kaka. “Professional road cycling, though, hasn’t ever been part of our culture. But that’s starting to change, faster than I expected.
“I feel so privileged to be a part of that change.”