Amputee athlete Xolani Luvuno was 'intoxicated' before his death, says mentor

Hein Venter said the athlete was intoxicated the night before his death and details the events leading up to Luvuno's body being discovered in his apartment.

21 September 2021 - 11:22
By Jessica Levitt
Xolani Luvuno and his mentor, Hein Venter, at the intersection where they met.
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali Xolani Luvuno and his mentor, Hein Venter, at the intersection where they met.

“I don't want his legacy to be tarnished by this. That's important to me. He touched people's lives and to be part of his story has been an honour.”

Xolani Luvuno, the amputee athlete who captivated thousands of South Africans, died early on Monday at his home in Elardus Park, Pretoria. His mentor, Hein Venter, who found Luvuno's body, spoke to TimesLIVE about the circumstances of the athlete's death.

“Xolani was intoxicated the night before his death,” said Venter. “This was not something he made a habit of. In the five-and-a-half years I have known him, I rarely saw him abuse alcohol. He was transformed.”

Venter was referring to Luvuno's past struggles with drug addiction. He was living on the streets in 2016 when Venter first met him and helped him turn his life around.

Luvuno's leg had been amputated in 2009 because of bone cancer, and he spent five years in jail in his early 20s. But his inspirational journey to becoming an athlete who competed in the Comrades and half Ironman races led to the duo giving more than 120 motivational talks around SA together.

But, said Venter, in recent months social influences in Luvuno's life had exposed him to alcohol.

On the night of September 19, Venter went to Luvuno's home and found him intoxicated. He said he expected the athlete to go to sleep and wake up with a hangover.

Luvuno, who was also employed by Venter, did not arrive at work the next morning, and Venter made his way to the house. He said he found an unresponsive Luvuno and an empty bottle of pills.

Police have confirmed an inquest into the death has been opened.

Captain David Miller told TimesLIVE a post-mortem would be conducted.

Venter said he knew there would be questions around Luvuno's death.

“He was a happy guy who loved life. He was a different person when he [drank] and he wasn't thinking straight.”

Venter, who was often seen alongside Luvuno at races, said he wanted Luvuno's legacy to be remembered.

“In a way, he took care of me too. That was what was special about him. He had an incredible way of being generous with his time and love. He was sensitive to other people's struggles and could easily pick up on other people's energies.”

Venter said Luvuno had recently made contact with his father, whom he had not seen for years.

Once police had arrived at the athlete's house following his death, Venter found Luvuno's father's number on his phone and called to tell him his son had died.

“It's very unreal,” Venter said. “On Facebook, I said that it didn't need to end this way. And it didn't.”