WATCH | Tembisa gymnast flips his way to Guinness World Records glory

Self-trained gymnast Zama Mofokeng breaks own record for one-handed backflips — again!

02 May 2021 - 00:03
By Kgaugelo Masweneng

Tembisa resident Zama Mofokeng has taken SA to Guinness World Records glory again, this time by doing 36 one-handed backflips in a row, an astonishing feat of gymnastic ability. 

Mofokeng was first inscribed in the book in 2017, when he was named the performer of the most consecutive one-handed backflips in world history.

On that occasion, Mofokeng managed 24 flips in the street next to Tembisa's Makhulong Stadium, and the assembled crowd went wild.

In 2019, he beat his own record, doing 34 flips. And now he has beaten himself yet again with 36 consecutive one-handed backflips in front of witnesses in March.

He is the triple-crowned king of this demanding manoeuvre. And this was achieved by a man with epilepsy who has not had what anyone might call an easy life.

Zama Mofokeng performs one-hand backflips in Tembisa on the East Rand.
Image: Alon Skuy Zama Mofokeng performs one-hand backflips in Tembisa on the East Rand.

When he was six, Mofokeng was hit by a car and suffered a head injury, which caused severe seizures.

He was diagnosed with epilepsy and told there was no cure - but he was not going to just sit back and take it.

"Doctors recommended that I stop studying, but I was stubborn so I found another way to stay engaged. I started watching videos on how to train and control your brain," he said.

Despite his determination, his condition deteriorated.

"I failed five subjects in matric and there was no way of repeating these. I was very forgetful. Doctors kept telling me to stop."

Unable to achieve academically, he turned to the acrobatic feats for which he is now famous, training himself by watching how the professionals did it on TV.

A much-loved figure in his community, Mofokeng, 30, has always trained for long hours in the streets - hard and unforgiving terrain that tests his balance and strength.

He has a mentor, Vusi Rashumela, and his friends and family have been enormously supportive.

"I have no source of income," Mofokeng said. "I hope to make a living through my talent and build my family a big house. They are so proud of me, especially since I am faced with so many challenges. I'm also working hard to get the medication that can control my epilepsy level."

Zama Mofokeng was first inscribed in the Guinness World Records book in 2017. He's since broke his own record for one-handed backflips twice.
Image: Alon Skuy Zama Mofokeng was first inscribed in the Guinness World Records book in 2017. He's since broke his own record for one-handed backflips twice.

Epilepsy irrevocably changed his life, but he will not allow it to destroy him.

"We face certain challenges to improve in life, not necessarily to suffer but to be redirected," he said.

"I believe I was born for greatness. I want to get involved in epilepsy work, as a lot of people may have given up because they feel they won't make it further than their circumstances.

"I was sad in the beginning, but my illness has taught me to take everything slowly and calm down."

The pandemic turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Mofokeng. Since he could not attend a gymnastics event he had been booked to perform at in Italy, he concentrated on his backflips and thus was able to once again break his own world record.

Mofokeng wants to inspire township children to take up gymnastics and to believe they can succeed despite the lack of finance and facilities.

"But I believe the government is limiting our people in the townships by only building stadiums for soccer and infrastructure for mainstream sports," he says.

His ambition is to run a gymnastics club in Tembisa, where he can teach children to soar and to take part in sporting events, and which may provide employment opportunities for stunt persons in films and commercials.