Girl runs to feed big family

Canaan Mdletshe

Nomvula Dlamini, a 17-year-old girl from rural Muden outside Greytown in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, uses her feet to help put food on the table for her family of 34.

The barefooted athlete uses the money she gets from winning races to supplement the income of her impoverished family.

The diminutive Dlamini, a Grade 9 pupil at Mount Ernestina Combined School, says she let's her feet "do the talking". Since 2006 she has won cross-country, track and road races all over South Africa. Now she wants to prepare for the Olympics.

"I have been running barefoot because I can't afford running shoes. My mother is too poor to buy me some," she said.

Her father died of a stroke in 2007, leaving her mother to care for the extended family.

The mother, Soneni Chonco, does odd jobs and earns R600 a month.

"I run to help my family. Whenever I get some money from my road running we use it to buy food. I want to do well and take my family out of poverty," Nomvula says.

Her mother says without Nomvula's contribution, they would be in a worse position .

"She is our only hope. When she gets some money from her running we use it to buy food. I pray everyday that she makes it through," says Chonco.

Nomvula is encouraged by her teacher, Sipho Mhlanzi.

"She is a talented athlete and I hope she can get a sponsor. She has been running barefoot for a long time and has set some excellent records.

"At competitions other athletes tell you a story about her. Even well-known runner Popi Mlambo can tell you something about Nomvula. But with all that talent she has no one to buy her running shoes or give her a sponsorship contract," says Mhlanzi.

Nomvula says she once won R3000, which she used to buy food and three goats.

"I want to be the best athlete out there and to build a better house for my mother."