It's extremely satisfying to see others achieve their dreams. We're
all fortunate to have popped out in a place and time when such
fulfillment is possible. I suspect that many humans around the globe
would love to pursue theirs as this goes to show.
South Africa is a bastion of civility in a continent of calamity but
there are nowhere near the opportunities that exists elsewhere,
especially for those in relative poverty. They have to work harder, as
this story shows, to realize their dreams. So it was uplifting to read
of this boy's success. My hat is also off to those who saw his
determination and didn't put him down, but rather helped him along. I'm
sure some scoffed—they're the losers. Welcome Cyril, to the ranks of
Cyril Mazibuko grew up in the shadows of the
mountains. Born in a small kraal at the foot of the Drakensberg range
in the southern part of the KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa,
Cyril would often look up at the 3,000-meter basalt peaks, a
playground for African paragliders. Enthralled, Cyril made a decision:
He would build his own glider and join them in the sky.
Now 26, Cyril is the only black South African
currently registered with the sport's ruling body. And it all started
with a glider he made from plastic bags, purloined rope and baling
wire, a glider that flew -- sort of -- though it both amazed and
horrified the professional paragliders who saw it.
Like many "extreme" sports, paragliding is
relatively new. In the early 1950s British sportsman Walter Neumark
was one of the first to advocate the possibilities of ultra-light
gliders that could be launched by foot power alone.
A decade later the sport received a big boost when
American Domina Jalbert invented what came to be the template for the
modern glider. His vision for a wing consisted of cells that were soft
and supple on the ground, but became rigid when inflated by the wind.
Dalbert's invention would eventually allow pilots to go farther than
ever before, and it provided them with significantly more control in
Today the average glider is a marvel of engineering.
It has more than 300 meters of steering lines, as well as between 25
to 35 square meters of ultra-light, ultra-strong porous fabrics.
And despite the gentle image of a pilot floating
softly to earth, wings can move -- fast. A low-end glider can hit 50
kilometers per hour, high-end gliders top out at 65 km/h.
Paragliding is also a sport for the well-heeled. A
brand-new glider and harness can easily cost upwards of $4,500. In
short, these aren't the sort of machines amateurs are supposed to
build, especially not 12-year-old boys with little formal schooling.
Cyril started small, using plastic bread bags for
the wing, with lines made from orange-bag strings. He would add
weights to these early prototypes and let them go. "Throw it into the
air and it would fly," he says proudly.
But for his glider to carry a person, Cyril needed
better materials, so he improvised. At night he and his friends would
raid a local farm and make off with fertilizer bags, rope and baling
wire. He chuckles at the memory: "He (the farmer) never knew what was
Cyril stitched together the fertilizer bags to make
his wing, using the wire for a needle and the rope as thread. He also
built himself a harness, and even added basic safety features.
"We used to see paragliders all the time, (and I
realized), 'Oh, there is an airbag to stop somebody from hurting his
back if he crashed,'" he remembers, "so we used to put wine bags,
inflated ones, in (our) harness."
And after more than a dozen attempts Cyril had a
working glider. It could carry 45 kilograms, and it flew, albeit
backward and uphill. In a strong breeze the glider could be inflated
and would take its "pilot" to the top of a small hill, while he faced
downhill. With soft wind the glider served as a sort of parachute
allowing the boys to jump off the top and float down gently to terra
Cyril's efforts soon drew the attention of more
"It was so well imaged on what we were flying,"
Jonathan "JJ" Bass says as he sips a coffee. The 40-year old has the
easy grace of an athlete. Bass now runs his own IT consulting company,
but for several years he was a full-time paragliding instructor. It
was his students Cyril watched fly from the teeth of the uKhahlamba.
Bass remembers Cyril showing off his creations at the bottom of the
"The way that it was put together was very
impressive," he says. "There were the right number of lines, they were
even in the right place.… (The glider) was very cleverly done."
Cyril's work so impressed Bass he decided to get
involved. Within a few weeks he was teaching Cyril the finer points of
piloting. And a few months later Bass scrounged up a real glider for
his new friend.