The year is 1991. Imagine being the first non-white South African to play at the Wanderers Stadium after the celebrated release of Nelson Mandela; 30 000 spectators, and all eyes are on you. Not many people can live out their wildest, most improbable dreams, yet in spite of many setbacks – political and personal – Abdul Manack is truly fortunate to have lived some of his biggest dreams. A renowned cricketer turned motivational coach and media personality, this selfless South African sporting treasure has a story worth a chapter in local history books.
As a young boy, Abdul grew up in Vereeniging, but in pursuit of more prosperity, his family later moved to Lenasia, Johannesburg. Abdul fondly recalls his eventful sporting career at Nirvana High School. It was here where his former (now late) teacher, Mr Bismillah encouraged him to pursue his cricketing dreams. Abdul’s grandest aspiration was to play for South Africa, however, due to the constraints of apartheid at the time, this was not possible. His next big goal was to play at Lord’s, in the United Kingdom, a place he envisioned as the mecca of cricket. Mr Bismillah recommended that Abdul do everything in his power to achieve this goal, firstly by training hard, never giving up and making the non-white Sacos high school side. Manack impressively made the team, and with that accolade, Mr Bismillah handed him an envelope containing an airline ticket to London. Abdul was unaware that the school and his peers, along with Pirate’s Cricket Club, had raised funds for him to travel to England and play the sport he was destined to in Yorkshire.
However, like most conservative Muslim parents, Abdul’s father visualised a university degree for him, and dismissed his sporting plans. Feeling despondent and hopeless, Abdul’s ticket to cricketing glory was then handed to fellow student, Nazier Dindar, and he realised at that moment that “life is like a heartbeat, it goes up and down, and if you can live with the momentum of a heartbeat, you can do anything”. His dreams were not entirely crushed, as in an unexpected turn, the cricketer they sent in his place to England was homesick and wanted to return to South Africa. This gave 18-year-old Abdul a rare, second opportunity to fulfill his dreams abroad. He believes that everything happens in its perfect time, willed only by Allah.
Manack lived in England for six months each year during the 80s, engaged in a cricket coaching course, and spent the other six months coaching cricket on home soil. This arrangement continued for six seasons where he played professionally in England and Wales. He also had the honour of playing at Lords after the Unification of sport. Abdul felt at peace during this stage of his life, fully embraced in England as a non-white player, often winning ‘Cricketer of the Year’ awards at the clubs he played for – a possibility that wasn’t conceivable in pre-1994 South Africa. Abdul also qualified as a senior cricket coach within his stay in the UK.
Abdul’s life orbited around the aristocratic sport, and the incidences he had experienced through it have shaped him. Once, while playing at school in a local derby with the heat of everyone watching and cheering him on, he bowled his last ball and his team lost. Naturally, Abdul felt devastated. His spirit was knocked out for a six. It was his sage teacher’s (Mr Bismillah) words that consoled him: “If you can look up, you can rise up. Don’t look down, the moment you lift your head up, you see the sun and the whole picture changes.” Due to this incident, Abdul started to look at things differently. After that moment he started believing in himself, and realised that it was okay to fail, but live every moment like it’s your last.
His passion for cricket is shared with his devotion to humanitarian work and unlocking potential. After his mother was diagnosed with cancer, he spent the last three months of her life caring for her full-time, which he recalls as “the most rewarding and blessed process of my life.” This emotionally moving experience sparked his interest in assisting the elderly and deprived, and has since spent time at an old-age home, orphanages and youth development programmes at underprivileged schools. Abdul also aids five different pledge lines on ITV, and is also part of the network’s popular show ‘Inspirate’.
The action coach’s other philanthropic projects include working with St Vincent School for the Deaf and being the project manager for Sandton Convention Centre’s Marriage Conference. His greatest passion is uplifting orphans. He shares the insightful words of the Prophet (PBUH): “The one who takes care of an orphan is with me in paradise.” Abdul realises that we have to give much more of ourselves.
The main event that motivated him to participate in humanitarian work was an encounter with a young boy while living in Yorkshire. This lad asked Abdul to help him improve his bowling, but as a young and upcoming cricketer, Mr Manack admits to being too “self-involved” and not one to give advice at the time. The boy came back day after day and asked for help once again. Abdul, just to get rid of the boy, showed him a few cricket skills. The boy returned again the next week, this time with a newspaper article in hand, illustrating how well he did in a cricket match. Abdul became more conscious of his own arrogance and this interaction taught him to become a giver rather than a taker. He was so grateful for this spiritual learning curve, since he found the feeling of giving more fulfilling than just playing cricket for personal gain alone. From this point onwards, Mr Manack started cricket and coaching training courses with the aim to develop ‘a mindset of a champion’. Abdul’s own son is following in his father’s sporting footsteps, and is training hard to play for post-apartheid South Africa one day soon. Insha-Allah.
One of his most heart-warming experiences was when he asked to give a talk at a deaf school. As Abdul was engaging with his audience and conducting interactive activities with them, he noticed that they weren’t in fact looking at him. Instead, their eyes were fixed on a sign-language translator. He was so moved because while they couldn’t actually hear him, they were following his instructions and heeding his words. “When you speak to people, always give them your best, because the best will always come back to you – even though you may think they are not hearing you, they are.” he adds.
Abdul has felt most rewarded while carrying out a ‘Brain Activation’ project with students and orphans in a 2-day workshop with Hawa Charfaray. Each of these destitute children had a challenging history, but they left the workshop with more confidence, better self-esteem and in complete disbelief that they could achieve and were capable of so much more than they had imagined. Abdul would like to continue inspiring young children in similar circumstances. He also runs ‘Beat the Bully’ programmes at schools.
The father-of-three thanks the Almighty Allah for giving him the opportunity to do good. He wants to make a difference, and supplicates: “Allah, use me daily as your servant unconditionally, and let me be the one you choose as your servant when your creation needs help.”
The former cricketer’s days always begin early; waking up for Fajr salaah (morning prayers), followed by half an hour of Quran, Zikr and reflection. After chauffeuring the kids to school, he spends 2-3 hours setting out proposals, planning events and going to schools to give anti-bullying and leadership talks. After midday prayers, his afternoon is filled with meetings and inspiring one-on-one coaching sessions, which are mostly voluntary. He de-stresses by cycling and often attends social upliftment events in the evenings. His day ends with evening prayers, family dinner and introspection.
One of the most pivotal moments in his life was receiving an honorary green Protea blazer, an achievement that he had worked his entire sporting life towards. A momentous ceremony was held four years ago, where former non-white cricket players – who would have been inducted into the South African cricket team during the apartheid era – were nominated. Only four sportsmen were given this honour, and Abdul Manack was one of the revered recipients.
He lives by three words: Best, test and rest.
Give your best. Live for Al-Ihsan (excellence).
Life will test you. You will always be tested; Allah says there will be ease after every test, yet still, give your best.
Leave the rest to Allah and trust his process.
The motivational speaker’s greatest life lesson: “We have so little time and we need to make every moment count, because you don’t know if you will have the next one. Never plan for tomorrow. Make everything happen today and expect the unexpected.”
He admires the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) most, noting that there isn’t a better role model, and he lives his life by what the Prophet said – to smile and do good. Another mentor he looks up to is close friend, Dr Moosagee, manager of the South African cricket team, whose ethical and moral character is inspiring.
Favourite Quranic verse: Surah Ar-Rahman, “So which of the favours of your Lord would you deny?”
Abdul defines success as making a difference and an impact. It’s not a CV you achieve but a legacy and your contribution you make in this world. “If someone is sad, make them smile, be an ear that listens with empathy and respond with love. ‘Success’ is things you do that touch a person’s heart, fulfilling your purpose, recognising Allah and getting others to do the same.”
A few goals Abdul Manack has for the future is to go for Haj (pilgrimage), and to be able to speak globally and inspire today’s learners to be tomorrow’s leaders. He would also like to travel to New Zealand next year, exactly one year from the date of the devastating mass shooting and read salaah (praying ritual) at the same mosque where the act of terror occurred.
To others exploring the branch of philanthropy, he advises that: “Doing good must be unconditional when you want to help someone. We all have choices and those choices we make define us. When the situation arises, always choose to do good, because the reward for good is only good. Continuously spread salaam and peace.”
Abdul can’t retire from the subject of gratitude, being most thankful for the fact that he is breathing and alive, for the people in his life and for every blessing that God has given him. He is so grateful for his experiences – past and his present. He imparts the wisdom that “life is duality, accept that you will experience good and bad, happiness and sadness, wealth and financial difficulty and good health and illness. For everything that happens, show shukr (gratitude) and sabr (patience).”
He believes that the Proudly Muslims of SA initiative creates awareness; that everyone who has been through pain, has a story, and that story has awakened them to a higher purpose, and needs to be shared. “Our next generations can learn from these stories and these people. We don’t need to look up to sports heroes or Instagram role models to impact the youth. These stories can make an impact and inspire others,” he further states.
The footprint Abdul leaves on this earth would be a smile and his positive energy. He hopes society will remember him for that. He’d like people to recollect that he had a meaningful life, and he always encouraged people to do good. He hopes that whoever met him was inspired and a meaningful connection of love was made.
After realising his own sporting goals, Abdul Manack’s mission is helping others to achieve their own objectives. With his convivial and compassionate approach, he has empowered and inspired those less fortunate, not by only being their hero, but by making them believe that they are their own greatest asset.