Big boots to fill for Manenberg rugby star

Suleiman Hartzenberg During the Varsity Cup match between the FNB NWU Eagles and FNB UCT Ikeys at the Fanie du Toit Sports Grounds in Potchefstroom, in February. Picture: Barco Greeff

Manenberg is on its toes following the selection of one of their young rugby players to the national under-20 Springbok squad.

Suleiman Hartzenberg was lost for words after receiving news that he was selected for the Springbok Junior squad to participate in the Six Nations Under-20 Summer Series, in Italy, from Friday June 24 to Tuesday July 12.

The 19-year-old utility backline player is having a stellar season in the Varsity Cup with the University of Cape Town (UCT).

A year ago, he could not have imagined it all happening so fast, as he was in high school, contemplating what to study.

Good for Hartzenberg, he had rugby to keep him busy from the noise and the social ills faced in his society.

“It is a big privilege to play for your country and from a community point of view, it is really a big deal because it is not everyday a boy from Manenberg goes out to represent his country. For us it is a big deal because we don’t get those opportunities a lot. For me, personally, I want to change people’s point of view of black communities. Most people associate Manenberg with gangsterism or drugs. There is talent and there are good kids there, if you give them the opportunity and resources, they will take every opportunity they get,” he says.

Hartzenberg could not afford to slip up. His five brothers instilled discipline in him from the young age of five, when they introduced him to the sport.

A couple of years ago, his brother, Yaasier ‘Yaya’ Hartzenberg also made the national under-20 squad. He is currently with the Griffons in the Currie Cup.

The young Hartzenberg says it all started out at a school down his street, Talfalah Primary School, before moving over to Primrose Park Primary School.

His efforts got him selected into the under-12 provincial team before he made the switch to Western Province Preparatory School (WPPS) in Claremont.

He spent a year at WPPS before Bishops Diocesan College showed interest in his quick feet. After matriculating from the boys’ college, Hartzenberg made his way to UCT.

“Growing up I hardly played with my age group until I was 12 years old. I started off in the forwards, tackling and getting into the hard yards before I moved to the backline… Being at UCT is phenomenal. I enjoy the environment. Everyone is welcoming and there is this bond you get with the players,” he says.

The Bachelor of Arts in Humanities student said, although he is in the first rugby team, he has to always maintain his balance and make sure to stay the course.

“Varsity Cup rugby is tough. I am not going to lie. You need to be in the zone. Initially my first thought straight out of high school was just to get a few caps in the first team for experience and exposure to senior rugby. But then when I started, it was just something different. I could feel a bit more pressure but it is not too much to handle. It is just like, you need to find your weight and steady up,” he says.

“Time management is your best friend. There are going to be some sacrifices you have to make. As tempting as it gets, you will have to say ‘no’ to going out. When you are playing away on Monday, you already know, maybe you can do a bit of work on Sunday so it doesn’t affect your game day. You just have to build this space where you feel happy and comfortable,” he says.

Hartzenberg says hardwork and discipline led him to the national team.

“I know it is difficult but you have got to reflect with yourself to understand what works for you and what doesn’t. You have to be prepared to work hard. Things don’t come easy and there are going to be challenges. Take them on and go forward. My brother always says ‘don’t be a victim of your circumstances, but a product of your choices,’” says Hartzenberg.

Suleiman Hartzenberg celebrates a try against Maties, during a Varsity Cup clash at home. PICTURE: ZAAHID APPOLES
UCT outside-center, Suleiman Hartzenberg in action against UWC in a Varsity Cup clash earlier this year. PICTURE: ZAAHID APPOLES