Habib Noorbhai’s life journey before Mr SA

From birth to death, we are all provided with the same platform to evoke a sustainable and innovative difference in the lives of others but each and every one of us, has a different path/journey. There are a number of factors that contribute towards a person’s uniqueness and individuality: environment, upbringing and the root. We all have a root within us. The stronger it is, the stronger it will grow. We can grow in maturity, success, value, personal development or within a community.

The aim of this piece is to share my journey prior to Mr South Africa and to appreciate and acknowledge those fundamental support structures that I’ve had along the way who have been fundamental contributing factors to my current success.

The root – my family (1988 – 1994)

My root for community love goes back a long way. It started in high school. I will forever be indebted to my Mom, Dad, Sister and Brother for teaching me imperative values and morals. More so, for giving me a conscience for discipline and productivity. This has truly shaped me in being the driven and passionate man that I am today. Words will never be able to describe my appreciation, gratitude and love that I have for them.

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It was never an easy root growing up. When it rained, it poured. When the sun came out, it beamed, in the dry and rat-racing Johannesburg. I remember the taste of bread and sardines for dinner, the use of candles at night so that we can see each other and the amount of bus coupons kept along the years. Hardship is designed to make you stronger and easy is designed to make you weaker. A weaker root will find it difficult to wither the storm but a stronger root will stand its ground in a variety of unfavourable conditions. I couldn’t ask for a better root!

Note: your parents may not have much in wealth, but in every parent, there is an abundance of unconditional love, patience and support, money can’t buy that, its priceless!



The bark – schooling (1995 – 2007)

I was bullied for being quiet, hard‐working and respectable. This had dented a stem in me but I grew out of it again. Going to school was either by foot, bus or catching lifts with friends. Coming back from school, I used to either wait hours for my mom to come back from work or the shops (transport was unreliable) and eventually I had the key to the house. I made my lunch and went back out again for madressah (Islamic school) or extra­‐curricular activities, particularly cricket. In my high school years, we were always part of market days, clothes collections for the needy and food hampers.

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My passion for community work became apparent in my latter high school years, it was enjoyable and it gave me a sense of belonging. Going back home was always great but on some days it was quiet and lonely. My sister and brother had relocated for work purposes and I missed them a lot. We stayed in front of a park and quite often after going to mosque, I used to find a quiet space in the park to breathe, walk, think or play sport with members from the neighbourhood.

To be schooled in Johannesburg can be a bit enduring, especially in the area I grew up in. I was mugged, beaten up and a few friends died in front of me. Not many know this part, I prefer it that way because many things is best to leave in the past. We have so much to be grateful for and I have always counted my blessings until today.

The first branch – undergraduate years (2008 – 2010)

One of the biggest turning points in my life was when I just completed matric. I had to choose between county cricket in the United Kingdom (UK) or study a Bachelors in Sport Psychology at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). I am so grateful till today that I chose UJ, and not UK. I received a small bursary from UJ to play cricket for them. Many people in JHB remember me as the walker. Each day, I walked from home to university which took me about 45 minutes. I remember that one enduring road along the way, Mercury road in Crosby.  It was so good for fitness because of the uphill but I always looked forward coming back home because it was a downhill. On Tuesdays to Thursdays it was cricket practice, so I had to walk with my ‘coffin’ (cricket bag). It was heavy but it was my form of training, carrying the bag alternating between my shoulders. I walked to university everyday for 2 years. But perhaps that was a bad idea – I re-injured my lower back severely and couldn’t play cricket for another six months. My first back injury happened in matric (2007) – this was when my dream for becoming a professional cricketer became shattered. If I was a Biokineticist then and knew better, I would have tried an alternative plan. My bursary in my second and third year subsequently fell through. During my 3 years at university I was a cricket coach at Parkview Senior School. From UJ to Parkview was a 90-­minute walk. I dreaded Tuesdays and Thursdays because that meant a total of 270 minutes of walking per day (135 minutes going and 135 minutes coming back; I couldn’t afford bus or taxi money). I was earning R150 a day and coached two days a week. In a month, I was getting roughly R1000-­‐ R1200 per month. That was enough for my meals, airtime and the odd coffee with friends. My parents were working class and could only afford the bare essentials at home. I am grateful till this day that they had taught me gratitude, appreciation and not spoiling me. But a plan had to be made for my fees...

I was always a daredevil type of guy that wanted to try my hand at most things. I learned the concept of cricket coaching clinics when I saw something on television one day. I then started having cricket coaching clinics every holiday for kids around Johannesburg. It was called: The HN Cricket Coaching Academy. I am grateful that I still use my HN (Habib Noorbhai) brand till today – humble beginnings. The academy was not just to make money and pay off things that I needed, it became so enjoyable. Cricket coaching increased my love for kids. There was one point when I conducted a clinic with no profit and I didn’t mind because I enjoyed working with the boys and helping them improve their game. But I couldn’t be profitless for every clinic, I eventually made some profit and paid for my fees in my second and third year at UJ. Mr Feizal Kimmie, a cricket enthusiast and mentor, played an imperative role in my life during these early years and I will never forget him and his wife, Mrs Zara Kimmie.

“When you work hard to get somewhere, you will need to work even harder to stay there” – this had always been my motivation. Just like cricket, we work for every10 runs scored and the last ten runs of a 100 is usually the hardest.

I wanted to become a Biokineticist to help athletes with their rehabilitation because I knew what it took after being injured. But knowing how it felt and studying it was two different things. Out of a pool of approximately 100 undergraduate students, universities were only accepting 10 – 15 Honours students. The selections were tough. I persevered, made the requirements and got accepted into UJ, UWC, Wits and UKZN to do my Honours. Till today, I tell myself that I should have stayed at UJ for my Honours because I would have been a better Bio because they emphasised a lot more on practicals than research aspects. But I don’t regret it, otherwise I wouldn’t have had a passion for research. The University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN) had ignited that passion for research and UKZN was my choice. Why? I missed my brother a lot and wanted to spend time with him. I was also tired of JHB and wanted a change of scenery. I eventually moved to Durban in 2011 where I completed my Honours in Biokinetics.

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The second branch (2012 – 2016)

I always wondered what it would be like to live in Cape Town, I heard it was beautiful but I also heard that the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA) was an incredible place to work at. In 2009, one of our 2nd year lecturers referred to the Lore of Running for our Exercise Physiology lecture and said that if you ever have the time to meet Prof Tim Noakes once in your life, you should, he is a remarkable man and scientist. In 2011, in my Honours year, Dr Mike Marshall lectured us on sports injury rehabilitation and he said something similar about Tim. I then knew, that I had to make my way to Cape Town and work with him but always knew that it would be difficult as he was very sought after and had many students under him.

I eventually got accepted as an intern at SSISA and into the Masters in Biokinetics programme at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Moving to Cape Town was the best decision that I have made. When I moved to Cape Town, I knew no one. I then understood why I was alone most of the time growing up. It was times like these that my earlier years prepared me for. I moved into University residence – Obz Square  what amazing and fond memories and relationships were made here (2012 -­ 2014). Although our rooms were only 11 squared meters, it had uncapped wifi and free laundry services on the ground floor.

My dream of working with Prof Tim Noakes became a reality in 2014.

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After I completed my MPhil in Biokinetics, I registered for a PhD in Exercise Science at UCT doing a thesis on one of my passions: cricket batting. I am currently at the end stages of my PhD and Tim has been my supervisor throughout. Not just with my PhD, but even before that; his mentorship, inspiration, humility and character makes him a remarkable man. When I meet with Tim, he always teaches and inspires you, and then I immediately think of a distinguished personality who is very similar to him, Nelson Mandela, my role-­model. The work of Nelson Mandela accentuated my passion and drive to do more for communities and society.

When I came to Cape Town, I found it challenging to do community work as opposed to JHB and DBN. I also got used to the ‘laidbackness’ of Cape Town and after a few months I couldn’t wait any longer. I then decided to start my own heart-­driven emporium called The Humanitarians. The last 5 years in Cape Town has been a journey about character and personal development. In my first year being in Cape Town, 2012, I met two rocks who shared this journey with me, Taahira Goolam Hoosen and Noel Adams.

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Taahira was and still is a student at UCT and Noel was the manager of the Obz Square residence. Till today, we are known as the awesome threesome. Very minimal could have been done with The Humanitarians (our NPO) without these two angels. I treasure them a lot. I have learnt so much from them, not just about community engagement but life itself. The projects and initiatives we conducted were novel and exciting, amidst the challenges, we persevered.


We had limitations as well, exposure and funding for the NPO. This was one of the main reasons for entering Mr South Africa in 2015.

My 5-cent worth of advice to the youth:

  • Take initiative and be proactive
  • Spend a majority of your time outside of your comfort zone to grow and become resilient
  • Community work done with sincerity will open a number of doors for you without you even noticing
  • Work smart, not hard
  • Expose yourself to as much as possible to open your eyes to the world (studying, travelling, relationships with people and values of etiquette)

The third branch (2017>)

I can say a lot more about what had transpired in my earlier years but I tried to be as concise as possible and speak about the main lessons and turning points.

I certainly believe that my what I have achieved so far stems from the hardships and obstacles that I have encountered and experienced growing up. My dream is to be affiliated as a leading academic to a university (where implications from our research can be brought to action) and make our NPO one of the best in the world. I am nearly halfway there: I am currently a Sports Science academic at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and I would like to classify our NPO (The Humanitarians), at this moment, as small-scaled.

We can never be certain of what the future holds but I am certain that my root and first two branches of life has provided me with a solid foundation to do more. After being crowned as Mr South Africa, I remain humbled and grounded, I can never forget where I came from, the hard yards walked and where I am now.

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I look to the future now with a better vision and a mission that I hope that will make a difference in the lives of others. If I can contribute towards 5% of difference making in my year of reign, then for me, that would be a significant contribution, and I will certainly give a 110%.

I salute and thank all the ‘leaves’ that played an integral part of my first and second branches. I look forward to meeting more leaves and hope that the life I live will be a tree of abundance, inspiration and in service to others.

“Your life is a message to the world, make sure it’s inspiring and leave a legacy behind. Laugh, live, love and make a difference” ~ Habib Noorbhai

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