By Mark Etheridge
When it comes to rugby, South Africa has had to accept second best when measured against New Zealand. In terms of sheer skills, however, South Africa has achieved clear-cut victories over their arch-rivals at the recent sheep-shearing world championships in Invercargill.
The recent World Sheep Shearing and Wool Handling Championships in New Zealand saw South Africa extending their proud winning tradition in this gruelling skill.
South Africa sent a team of six to the championships in Invercargill.
And when the dust, or rather fluff, had settled, South Africa had another two world championships in the shed.
Mayanzeke Shweni (pictured left) and Bangani Joel (right) are now both world champions. Shweni won the Southland All Nations and World Championships title in the blade-shearing division. Joel was fourth in the same two competitions. The two then teamed up to take the global title in the blade-shearing division.
Naturally this news makes for an extreme proud SA Sheep Shearing Federation as the federation continues their fine international form. The Golden Shears World Sheep Shearing and Wool Handling Championships were first held in England 40 years ago and are held every two to four years, with the venue alternating between northern and southern hemispheres.
Based on the average results in world championships, Tri-Nations Championships and world-record attempts, South Africa has shown the best returns in the blade-shearing category.
The most recent competition saw 31 countries sending teams.
The South African team also had two machine-shearers and two wool handlers at the Invercargill event, but they weren’t able to make the cut past the elimination round, although still getting through a mound of work.
When it comes to actual competition, it’s very much all in a days’ work for the blade-shearers. They work five days a week, excepting when they’re on the road or weather conditions are unfavourable.
Their full-time profession actually serves as real-time practice for competition. They ‘train’ just as hard as they work.
A normal day’s work sees these men shearing between 100 and 120 sheep. And they pride themselves on being part of an elite group of athletes, especially given their respective ages. Shweni is 44 and Joel 50.
In a study showing just how fit these men are, the University of Western Australia conducted tests on Aussie machine shearer Dwayne Black during a world record attempt. During the nine-hours attempt he worked at 80-83% of maximum heart capacity. Similar tests done on the Wallaby rugby team found that for the 80 minutes of a rugby test, players were operating at around 75% of their heart capacity. Shearers are undoubtedly superb athletes, as they do this for eight hours a day, every day.
Some more about South Africa’s new world champions:
Works for Cape Mohair & Wool (CMW) as a sheep shearer.
Resides in Sterkspruit.
Shears an average of 100-120 sheep per day.
Represented South Africa for the first time in 2010 at the World Championships in Whales, where he placed second in the World Championships Blade Shearing Division and also won the Blade Team Shearing Division with Bangani Joel as his teammate.
Represented SA again at the World Shearing Championships in New Zealand in 2012, where he placed second in the World Championships Individual Blade Shearing Division and also won the Blade Team Shearing Division with Hans Zweliwle as his teammate.
At the next World Championships in Ireland 2014, he won the World Individual Blade Shearing Division and also the World Blade Team Shearing Division with Zweliwle as his teammate.
In 2017 at the World Championships in New Zealand, he won the World Individual Blade Shearing Division and also the Blade Team Shearing Division with Joel as his teammate.
Works for Brandfort Shearing Services as a sheep shearer.
Resides in Sterkspruit
Shears an average of 100 – 120 sheep per day.
Represented South Africa for the first time in 2005 in Australia where he came second in the World Individual Blade Shearing Division.
In 2006, a World 8-hour Merino lamb record was attempted and Joel and teammate Samuel Juba set the new world record at 460 Merino lambs shorn in eight hours and Joel’s contribution to the record was 215 sheep shorn.
Represented South Africa at the 2010 World Championships in Wales where he won the Blade Team Shearing Division with Shweni as his teammate.
At the 2017 World Championships, he placed fourth in both the All Nations Individual Blade Shearing Division as well as the World Championship Individual Blade Shearing Championship. He also won the Blade Shearing Team Division in the World Championships with teammate Shweni.