“They broke my heart by calling me all sorts of demeaning names but they failed to break my spirit”
“Look at this freak, it’s so scary to see him walk about like that. I wonder why his parents don’t lock him up.”
These are some of the painful and heart piercing remarks that Gontle Balemoge, 25 was subjected to while growing up.
The young man does not know how it feels to walk like an able bodied person as he was born with spina-bifida, a condition which affects the spinal cord thereby causing disability from the waist down.
“When I was young, up until my teens before I started using a wheelchair and subsequently crutches, I walked like a drunk person as I would stagger, wobble and fall. This then made me a subject of ridicule, laughter and name calling.’’
And as he recalls those painful years, he looks away in silent.
“Those were some of the most painful moments in my life,’’ he says with a shake of his head.
“To my peers I was a thing which was not supposed to be out there in the world. Maybe the sight of me made them feel bad, but little did they know that I was a normal boy like them who also had to deal with growing pains.
“Anyway, enough of these sad memories, let’s talk about the good times,’’ he says with a smile that radiates warmth.
We caught up with Balemoge at his work place at eBotswana where he works as a producer and a presenter.
He is no stranger to television audiences as his popular programme Sensational Lives was aired on the network last year.
“It has always been my dream to work for television or radio though the latter is my first love. I am very grateful to Dave Coles (eBotswana General Manager) for spotting my talent when I came for voice over auditions in 2009. I had knocked on many doors to fulfil my broadcasting passion, but those doors were shut in my face as I guess they didn’t want to take a chance with someone with a disability.
“Well, that’s their loss, they don’t know what they are missing, my voice was meant for radio and so was my face.
“I know that one day soon I will be a force to reckoned with,’’ he says and I nod in agreement as the young man was surely blessed with a deep sweet voice that makes you instantly fall in love him the moment he starts talking.
His love for broadcasting saw him enrolling at Limkokwing where he is studying radio and television broadcasting, but that was after one of his most painful setbacks in life.
After finishing his secondary education he was due to go to Tolido University in Ohio in the United States, but a few weeks before departure he was told that it was not possible for him to go because of his condition.
“All was set and I was ready for a new life, but after doing a medical check-up the department of special education in the Ministry of Education told me I was unfit to go. They reckoned that I would never cope with the weather!
“I will never forget the pain that I felt that day. For days and weeks I felt useless, hopeless and hated life more than ever before, but as they say, time is a healer.”
As the last child in a family of six he was born and brought up in a loving and caring family, a family that gave and continues to give him all the love and support that he deserves. He grew up in the Mokgomane Village until he came to Gaborone for the first time in 1999.
It was then that he saw the harsh side of life.
“I started my school term in January at Nanogang Junior School and by March I was out of school as I could not handle the pressure of being called a thing which was an outcast in society and all sorts of names. I could not face it because it was like I was going to school to be a laughing stock. Enough was enough so I quit.’’
For two years he stayed at home until his mother eventually managed to convince him to seriously think about how his future would be without education.
He then left Gaborone to join his sister in Serowe where he did his junior secondary school before coming back to Gaborone for higher education. Life was a bit easier then since he had started using a wheelchair.
“Like any other teenager feelings of love started creeping up while I was at school and I started having crushes on girls, but how was I to approach any girl when I was considered an outcast?’’
The little courage that he had was further blown away when one of his friends decided to act on his behalf and tell a girl that he liked that he wanted to propose to her.
“Hell no, that will never happen, what will I do with a thing like that,’’ was the answer that came back from the first love of his heart.
For years, despite his good looks and the untapped charm he kept his distance from girls until 2005 when females (and some males though he was quick to point out that despite his good looks he’s a straight man) started looking at him in a different light and made their own advances on his feelings.
Anticipating the next obvious question he laughs and says: “Oh my God! Are you going to ask me if I had sex! Well there is nothing to hide, I am a man now, I had my sexual encounter in 2007 and please don’t ask any further questions,’’ he says looking down blushing.
He is currently in love and says he one day wishes to marry and have a girl child.
“Like any man, I want to enjoy family life and build a lasting relationship. I may not have legs, but I have a strong heart,” he says, as we end the interview with another smile.