Qaphela Gobodo was only 15-years-old when
he received a scholarship for his favourite sport, rugby. His life was about to
change forever, and this would set him up to play professional rugby in the
future, however, tragedy struck after he received the good news. He was set
alight by schoolmates and almost lost his life.
This is his story
“The day my life changed forever was a
Tuesday in 2016. I was at school and I asked my teacher for a bathroom break and
she agreed. As I was headed to the bathroom I saw these boys on the corridor
but I didn’t mind them. When I left the bathroom someone hit me with a golf
stick at the back of my head and I fell, unconscious.
I couldn’t hear anyone; I couldn’t see
anything and I couldn’t scream for help because I was unconscious. As I
regained my consciousness I could feel myself burning but I was so lost because
I thought maybe I had been shot or maybe I was dreaming but I couldn’t really
understand what was happening.
When I realized that I was on fire, I tried
standing up but I fell again and rolled down the stairs while on fire. I was
close to the girl’s bathroom and so I tried pouring water on myself but that just
made the fire worse and also I had dye on me so I was burning even more. Everyone
started screaming and crying so I ran out the toilet. The wind was also blowing
which made the fire even bigger. My main focus now was getting to the
headmaster’s office. It was about 3 minutes away so as I was running there, I
kept falling and standing up again just to get to the office. When I finally
got there, I asked them to open the water and then I knelt in front of the tap
and the water quenched the fire. My clothes were stuck on me so I decided to
take them off and I was naked. Everyone could see my private parts.
My father was called by the school and he
arrived very quickly. When my father saw me, he mumbled something like ‘my
child, you’re going to leave me so soon at such a young age’. I could see that
he was crying. I responded back to him and said ‘no dad, I’m not going
anywhere. I’m going to survive this, I’m going to be strong and I’m going to
come back and play rugby again.’
My dad didn’t have any faith, he was going
crazy but I encouraged him. I was still
in pain when I was talking to him and everyone in that room thought I was
dying. No one had hope that I’d survive but I did have hope that I was going to
survive. I knew I wasn’t dying and I
know that God was with me at that moment.
The ambulance finally arrived after 30
minutes. The ambulance took me to Paarl General Hospital so when I arrived
there; my mother told me that we had to wait till 12 midnight so I could be
taken to a bigger hospital. The helicopter came and then I was taken to
Tygerberg Hospital. I was in ICU and fell into a coma for about 26 days. When I
woke up, I didn’t know where I was, I felt like I was dreaming.
I remember the first time when I was going
to see myself in the mirror. In my head, I thought maybe everything is normal
and not much damage was done but as I saw myself for the first time, I was
frightened. I was scared of myself. I felt hopeless.
The hospital staff treated me with kindness.
In my ward, I was the worst burnt patient. I had more than 20 operations. It
was a really tough time for me.
In November my sister came to see me for
the first time. So she couldn’t recognize me but my mother told her that ‘here
is your brother’. At first she just stood and looked at me then after a while
she said, ‘that is not my brother. I know my brother and this is not him.’
I was discharged from hospital in December
and my friends came to see me. At first they found it hard to believe that it
was me but as days went by they kept coming to visit and got use to me. They
stayed in with me even during the December holidays when others kids went out
they stayed with me and supported me.
In January, I had to go back to school and
I was really excited to go back. So on the first day of school people were
saying bad things about me, people were laughing at me even my friends and
people I was close with but I didn’t mind them. When I got back home from
school, I told my parents that I’m not going back and that I wanted to take a
gap year to recover and to think about what I want in life.
This year I went back to playing rugby and
in June I received my scholarship again to play rugby. The people who had set
me alight were jealous people. They were jealous that I was the first black
person in the school to receive a scholarship for rugby. A match wouldn’t end
without me scoring at least two or three tries. Everyone knew that. I’m happy
now, I got my scholarship back and I’m just focusing on my career and being a