To her fans and admirers, Hazel Gumede will always be known as “Special”. This eighties netball phenomenon kept South Africa talking for nearly 20 years, as she excelled in the game she loved, and won a treasure-chest full of awards along the way.
Hazel started playing netball in 1976 during the strikes, sporting talent also showing in her enjoyment of basketball, tennis and athletics.
During her playing days, the proud Soweto resident was a prolific goal shooter, who mesmerized people with her magical style of play, and she was a regular feature on the sports pages of leading newspapers.
Hazel started getting serious about her netball in 1980, when her many goals for Thabo Senior Secondary School in Naledi helped to make the school national netball champions.
After being recruited by Papa Moloko, she joined Rockville Young Limited, where her leadership took the team to the top. Her presence on the court was undeniable, and everyone began talking about this “special” talent.
But after receiving the honour of being the first black person to be selected in an all-white Transvaal team, the realities for a black woman in apartheid South Africa became real for her, when she was left in the dark once the team had to gather for an all-important game.
Hurt but not downcast, Hazel refused to let the personal disappointment ruin her career, instead she re-dedicated herself to netball, vowing that she would not be forced out of the game she loved.
Her nature, her dedication, and her love for the sport lead many people to tout her as a future administrator of the game, even at an early age.
In 1983 her first ever coach, Joseph Makhafola, then president of the Southern Transvaal Netball Association, said: “Apart from excelling on the field, she has shown leadership qualities. Her dedication is infectious, and she is an invaluable asset to the game.”
Hazel retired from playing netball in 1995 but has remained within the structures ever since, continuing to dedicate herself to coaching the best of South Africa’s young talent, on their path to their realising their potential.
In recognition of her dedication to the sport that she loves, gsport … for Girls! has chosen this amazing woman as its 2007 Hall of Fame inductee.
Paying tribute to Gumede, gsport Editor Kass Naidoo called Gumede is an inspiration to all women who contribute to women’s sport.
“Women’s sport is richer because of people like Hazel. Choosing her was an honour in itself. Aside from her being a legend of the game, Hazel is a humble human being, who is passionate and willing to help women reach their potential on the netball court.
“Our young athletes are privileged to have a person of her calibre around. She has so much to offer; we can learn so much from her life experience,” said Naidoo.
Hazel is currently with the under-17s at the Gauteng Netball Academy and is the assistant coach of the SPAR Senior National Netball team. She sat down with Kass Naidoo and opened up about her love for netball and how it has happily consumed her life since she was a teenager.
Introducing gsport’s 2007 Hall of Fame inductee, Hazel “Special” Gumede!
How does it feel to be chosen as the second gsport Hall of Fame inductee?
It feels so great. I just feel honoured. I think it’s something I thought happens to other people; I never thought it would come to me. That is why I am so excited.
You were chosen because of your role in the promotion of netball in South Africa. Although you didn’t get to play for South Africa under apartheid, you continue to support the development of the game. How does that feel for you?
It still feels good because I think my role in netball, as a black person, plays a big role because we have players that are coming up. For them to find it easy – that it is possible for them to be here – they have to find people like myself being there and still being positive.
You know, not talking about the past, but just preparing for the future, and telling them what’s out there for them, all the opportunities they’re going to get. We can relate stories to them. We didn’t have it as easy as they do. They should just stick to what they have, use their talents and be positive.
When did your netball journey start?
I started in 1976, during the strike, and we were not going to school. I was playing the old basketball, not the American basketball played now; I think it’s now called Korfball. I was a scorer in basketball, so I thought ok; I’ll give it a try and be a shooter for netball.
Then it was introduced at school – I was always at practice. I started at higher primary, then I went to Hlengiwe, that was a high school – then we were playing, competing, always number one!
Because of my background, for my matric, I moved schools to another school, only because the principal there was prepared to pay for my bus fare; bus fare only, not that you will get lunch. I will just go with that coupon, go to school, just because I know at that school I’ll get education, as well as play my game, which I loved most – Netball!
So I played at Thabo Secondary, which was one of the top schools in Gauteng, and we were competing all over. Then, there was a team in Rockville, Rockville Young Limited; that is where I started!
When I left my netball (playing), I was still playing for them. So I played for Young Limited, getting awards every year, being the best shooter, player of the tournament. I once played for the Presidential Team. We were traveling all over, not out of the country, but around the provinces, and Soweto was excelling in everything.
In netball, all teams, we had three divisions, and we were always on top, with all three, winning gold throughout. That winning was now a norm for us that we were going to win, even with Young Limited. Each time, Hazel Gumede is called on stage, then you’ll have the remarks, aah…OBVIOUS!
Not that it was given to me on a silver plate, I was a hard worker. I was training hard. Even if we were wearing those funny takkies, were we used to put mielie-meal around the takkies, to keep it white. If you want it to dry, it would have this yellow stripe on the side. Laugh! To keep it white without that yellow stripe, we’d have to put mielie-meal or white chalk.
How old were you in 1976?
15 years old.
The fact that you were on top, but you couldn’t represent South Africa because you were black, how did you handle that emotional side of it?
At that moment, I wasn’t even aware there were black and white associations. We were playing for SANA, which is the South African Netball Association, and there was USANA, which was the white body. For us, we were just having fun, playing our game, even if it was amongst ourselves. You know, we didn’t feel like we were losing out, because we were still enjoying it.
I remember one year… I can’t remember the year, but I was chosen the first black player to be play in a white team. We were supposed to go to Upington with the team. It was in the newspapers, you know that time netball had a lot of coverage, during the time of SABC 1, SABC 2, so they would cover our games, wherever we played.
That was fun for us, getting sponsors from Pick n Pay, Tastic Rice – just getting a t-shirt was a great thing for us.
Going to tournaments, we were fighting for sponges… you know… (laughs)…to sleep on the floor. When the truck comes, everyone will run to get a sponge. We were friends with all the provinces, so if we hear this province didn’t get enough, we didn’t mind sacrificing and sharing with them.
With the Upington thing, the team went to Upington, and I didn’t know about it. Nobody told me where was training, nothing.
But you were selected?
I was selected.
Which team was this for?
I was supposed to go represent Transvaal. I don’t know if maybe they realised after that, why should we have a black player in our team? I was at high school at that time. It was around the 80s because I completed my matric in 1980, so it was during that time.
People were asking, the newspapers would phone you, when are you joining the team, are you training, and I was like, no I am not, because I don’t get information.
The next thing it was in the newspapers again that the team came back from Upington. You know that nearly destroyed me. That is when I thought, maybe I have the wrong colour, because I have the talent and I am competent. It’s not like I’m getting it from my side only.
They were watching the game where I was playing. They would invite me to their coaching courses for me to demonstrate, so that on its own told me, you are the best!
But after being left out, I just thought, I think I took the wrong way, I better go back to tennis. But my parents were so supportive, and they were Christian, and they just said, you are where God wants you to be, it’s where you belong, you have to be there.
That motivated me, and you know, my coach, Joseph Makhafola (Young Limited Team) would say I still need you here, I’ll fight for you, no-one will take you away from this team.
In 1992, I went to Soweto College of Education. When I got there, they had a team, but it was not performing to the standard.
You know if you are a player and you’re good…and I just thought I’m going to assist these ladies here. I was doing my first year and the players there were third year. But, I just went to them, I introduced myself, I told them I’d love to join their team. They said, no you are welcome! But the way they were training and all that, then I thought; now I am going to take over!
So, all the things you learnt, you were able now to help other people?
You know, from an early age, I was already a coach…laughs! I started coaching at the College. We won the Colleges tournament in 1992, when we played in Durban, with all the provincial colleges, like Potchefstroom, being there.
Playing against Irene van Dyk; you know that on its own was like, wow, we’re playing against the best. She was already a recognised player, and to outplay her, it was such a nice thing to do. Our coach used to call us the dream team, which was motivating for us.
So, 1992-93, I was still the trainer/coach, but you know, my netball was so busy. I would coach the College team, then after that, take a taxi to Wits University, coaching Wits University.
After that, I’d rush to Jeppe; I was playing for Jeppe Old Girls. Training three times a day, still doing your assignments… all that…but I didn’t despair, I’d go back home and do my assignments. They were always submitted on time. People would say you have this funny life.
I never had a social life, like going to parties, because when I got home, it was already late. All I needed was to be in the bath and go to sleep, because the next day is college again.
In 1994, I joined Johannesburg Old Girls – that was the team of Rashida Abrahams-Falconer.
She’s a popular lady in netball, she loves netball. She would drive to Soweto to get the black girls to play in her team. She would go miles just to get people to play netball; taking care of us, which I had respect for. But now I think she is in gymnastics.
So I joined Rashida’s team in June. My friend introduced me to their team. I went there; I sat waiting, because I didn’t know anyone there… waiting for my friend. Unfortunately she didn’t pitch that night. Johannesburg Old Girls were busy training, and I thought…ok… do I have to sit here?
Then Rashida came to me and asked if I wanted to play netball. I said yes. She asked if I was coming to join their team. I said yes. She asked why are you sitting here, do you think you’re the Queen, or what? I said no.
She asked what position I can play, and I said, any position, but I like goal attack. She said, now you are talking, nobody can play all positions; you have to play one position in a team!
I joined the team. I went to the training on Tuesday. On the Thursday, it was another training session; they had their meeting after the training. They were discussing people that are going to trials; the Southern Transvaal trials. Names were thrown around.
I’m a new player in this team. So and so is going, so and so is going! Then one lady asked: “Why we can’t try Hazel to go for the trials? Rashida said: “Hazel is new.” What’s going on, everyone is going on about this Hazel? I said no, never mind, I’m fine, I’m still new.
Then they talked about having an umpires exam on the Saturday (its Thursday) Saturday is the coaching exam on the morning of the trials. Then I said I’d love to do the exam. Do you have the rule book? Yes, I do. Which year? Then I gave her the year. She said: “No, that one is old, you can’t write this year.” Then I said, no I will write. I went home; I knew I was going to write the exam 12 noon at Wits University.
On Friday, I got a call asking if I knew where RAU is. I was asked to go there at 9am for trials. Then I went. When I got there, Rita Oosthuizen was registering all the players that are coming for trials.
That time to talk to a white person was unusual…. Then Rita took my name down…Hazel Gumede. After that, she looked at me, She looked at the paper, looked at me, look at the paper. Then I wondered what was going on.
The next thing, I had a call from Rashida, and she asked Hazel, who are you, exactly? (Laughs)…I say I’m Hazel Gumede. There’s nothing more I could say. Rashida said I got this phone call from Rita that you have to get clearance (for trials) because your coach from Soweto won’t let you go. I said, ok, she recognizes me, oh ok, then I said no never mind I’ll get the clearance.
I tried that day, and the next thing, all the girls I went with from the team didn’t make it. I was the only one in the team. That didn’t make me feel comfortable. I knew it was possible because of my game but being new, and these players have been there and they have been willing to be part of the team and now all of a sudden…
Then they congratulated me, because they knew, players that knew my background, knew my game, but I was not aware of so many people knowing this Hazel. Then, I was in that team, I got the clearance, so every thing was fine.
The very same Saturday, I went to write my umpires exam. The pass mark was 80, then I came out with 99…laughs! Then Rashida was mad. Just tell me who you are. I’m Hazel and then that’s it. Okay, you are just a strange person.
The Sunday we were supposed to go play at Ravens Park, on the Saturday, SABC 1, Hazel was playing. And the players were so excited, they saw Hazel on TV. They went to tell Rashida, Rashida we saw Hazel on TV. She said: Now, you are going to give me your CV because everyone is carrying on about you. But we had a very good relationship after that.
In September, they had their year-end function, and I was invited as a player there. The next thing I’m getting this nice big cup with my name on, written assistant coach. And I’m like… I’ve just arrived. Because I just didn’t wait for her. If Rashida is late for training, I just take over, train the girls, and carry on as if nothing is happening.
When she comes, she’ll just stand on the side and say, sorry, sorry, Hazel; I don’t want to disturb you. But I didn’t know she was taking that into consideration – that she can even think of giving me an award.
That made me want to go on and on and on. Then, I was still coaching Wits University. We went to play the SASSU games in Bloemfontein in 1993, and they won. According to them, it was the first time they won the SASSU Games. Tome, it was such a blessing, because coaching was something that I loved.
I started with a very good coach, it was a man, but still he didn’t treat us like…that made us want to coach. I was busy coaching, and then in 1997, I went to Zimbabwe for the CUCSA games.
It’s the varsities, then they select the national team from the varsities, after playing the SASSU games, then they select the CUCSA team. I was the assistant coach for Marlene Wagner. We went to Zimbabwe and we brought gold. Then it went on and on with my coaching.
When did you stop playing?
1995 after leaving college, then I concentrated on coaching. Then I started coaching teams in the locations. In 2004, I was coaching Technikon Witwatersrand (now University of Joburg). I coached the Macaabi team, they went to play in England, that was in 2002. But I was officially appointed to the national team as assistant coach since 2000.
How is netball different now?
There is a lot that is now happening, that never happened during our days. Like physios, we never had physiotherapists. We just played, if you have a knee injury or ankle injury, you just get cold water, and you put a bandage, not even strapping.
Now we have strapping…we have scientific people in sport that are assisting us. How an athlete should run. The nutritionists… we were just eating anything? A lot has changed.
Is it helping netball?
If you are from the old school, you will say… What is happening, this scientific part and the way the players are treated, you will say yes, this is a good thing.
But at the same you, you think, we now struggle to get players, yet before you get to each and every corner, you find people playing netball, even if they are using the wheel of a bicycle to make a post, and a plastic bag, to shoot.
But now that passion is no longer there. If I can’t get new takkies, then why should I play netball? Do you think players today can sleep on the floor, in a school, queue for food that is cooked by mining people, It won’t happen.
Do you find that it’s going to help taking netball around the country?
I think the department of sport is doing a lot, they’re putting money in schools. Individuals can apply for money, as long as you’re going to get people to play sport.
What is sponsorship like for netball now?
At the moment, it is only SPAR sponsoring with seniors, and Shoprite Checkers with the juniors. Gilbert is also assisting, and New Balance is also assisting.
Is it assisting the team?
It really plays a big role and SASCOC as well; SASCOC is also putting money into netball. For us to be here at the HPC, having more days for squad camps, it really helps, being exposed to scientific things, we’re doing vision, a lot of things that you think if this happened during my time… laughs! I was just thinking what could have happened.
I was going to be this amazing player, but still, not that I regret that I played that time, because I’m still in the system. I still have passion for the game, but there are ups and downs, where you think… but as soon as you think of the girls…
I just rewind, what would have happened to me if my coach left me? They were very loyal, because they were playing us on merit, not that you’ll play because you are so and so’s child, no we were playing on merit.
Is transformation a good thing?
I think it is a good thing, because South Africans from all race groups are talented. I can’t see a team that will be one group dominated. I think it is a good thing that we transform.
It’s not an overnight thing, though we say 10 years is too long, but this thing happened for longer than 10 years.
It won’t just happen overnight, but we are getting there. I think with these Butana Komphelas’ we can’t go wrong.
When you are not with the national team, what do you do?
At the moment, I am with Gauteng Netball Academy. I am working with the under-17s. I’ll be selecting a new team after the SA games in September. Then October will be the trials.
I had a group which was a pilot team, so it mixed ages, 19, 18, 20 – all those players have outgrown their time at the academy.
The fortunate part is that some of them are already in the national team. We’ve got players like Tsakane Mbewe, and Thuli Pheko, and they are playing for Thunderbirds as well. To me it’s just a blessing. The academy is working so hard, to get this players to still play and be national players?
What’s your family life like?
I live in Soweto, still in Soweto, same corner house. I have two big boys, one is 24, and the other is 22.
What are their names?
Zolile (22) and Simphiwe (24) Simphiwe is doing motor mechanics, and Zolile is an IT technician. He just got his diploma as I was here (HPC), and Simphiwe turned 24, I was at a squad camp, as always. Even with his 21st, I wasn’t there. I would just buy gifts, and send messages but I’m not there, but they understand, and they are so supportive. They live with me.
What made your game so special?
I think it was more about passion and the style of play. Our netball was not like netball from the book; to say the ball from centre goes to wing attack goes to goal shooter. We had our own style. We had this goal defence, she passed away now in 2003. She was with handball, they went to Ghana and she had malaria; she passed away, it was so sad.
When we played, the ball would go from the centre, to the goal defence, and straight to me under the post, the goal shooter. We’ll just shout on court, “let’s give them 10 before they know what hit them”. That 10 would be so quick that even the umpires would be like, what’s happening, because the ball would just go 1, 2, and then under the posts.
We had more flair, because I would stand right next to the line, and when the ball comes, myself and my goal defence would be looking at the ball, and it would be like going out, and I had just … you know I had this magic that I didn’t know anything about.
How did people describe your play?
I had so many names. With Molefi Mika from Sowetan, he’d call me SPECIAL. Then Meshack Motlaung, he called me Professor. I think it’s from the gangster. There was a gangster called Professor Ma Hazel and I am Hazel and now he is calling me Professor.
I just had a lot of names. Some would call me OBVIOUS. Wherever I am, its OBVIOUS we’re going to win. My college coach was calling me RONALDO.
Zolile traveled when he was six weeks old; straight from the clinic for a checkup into the bus to Bloemfontein. You know I was just this amazing person; sometimes I would surprise myself, wondering how I did all this.
Its good support I got from my parents. You know my grandparents, and my mother was so supportive. Even my boys, when I say you know what, that’s it, I am just going to quit. Sometimes you find stress, and then you think… I don’t think my life is this small; I have to look after myself.
Then they’ll tell me, after this, what are you going to do? Are you going to start a new career going to the club…laughs! It sounds funny because netball is my life. I am now planning to start street netball because of what is happening around us, kids are doing drugs, they bunk school, and there is a lot of negative things that are happening.
I am still trying to get the posts. It is not easy. The last time I checked, one pole is R2000. I asked the council to assist me, but you know they won’t say yes and give you things. But I am going to start it. It’s just that at the moment, it’s this world cup thing, I’m in and out. But, I will start it.
I have this dream of making this happen; going from one street to another. Play this street this week, the next week, another street. After playing all the streets, I just see this big league that will be taking place; street netball league.
At the end of the day, I’m thinking of taking the best players, because I am a selector as well at national level; just take the most talented players and make them this one team. Then for them, they can go out there and play competitive netball somewhere where they can be recognized and be placed into systems. They can end up somewhere. The main aim is just to take them out of the streets. That’s my main aim.
What TV programs do you watch?
I watch every sport from cricket to rugby; I watch all sports because that’s the only thing I enjoy that competition. Sometimes I don’t even understand what’s happening. I watch Generations. I watch Oprah. Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks. Because of their programs, they have good topics. That’s what I like to watch more. Sometimes programs like Noeleen, I also watch that. I move around.
What other hobbies you have?
I enjoy reading. I like reading a lot. Just being around at home, relaxing, and just playing around with kids. I spoil them so much and I am not popular with their parents, and singing though I can’t sing.
What music do you listen to?
Gospel. I listen to all gospel.
What was the big strength of you being a good coach?
I think my strength is my humbleness. I see myself as a different coach. You won’t find me screaming on court. I’m this Hazel, I’m this coach. Sometimes when I talk to players, they feel like I am more of a motivator, and a parent than a coach because they know the basics.
Always when I want them to do something I have this way of talking to them, and the respect that I give to the players, because I take them as individuals, they are not all the same, and I respect that. I think its my humbleness is what keeps me going. I think I’ve taken all the knocks so I don’t think anything can destroy me now.
Who is your role model?
Ntambi is the one. Ntambi Ravele is my role model. I still call her my president. She is very strong. She comes a long way with netball. She still has that passion. She can lie to herself and say I’m done with netball, but she knows she still loves netball, and she knows we still love her.
Madiba is my role model. And Winnie Mandela. And the other person I respect is Oprah, when she tells those stories, you just feel you know being black doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. Its what you decide, it’s what you choose to be.
If you say I am just trapped in this black skin, that’s not an excuse, just go out there and make people believe that you can. Be positive, because if you feel ashamed of yourself, then nobody will believe in you.
You just have to have guts. I’ve done that, and I’ve been there, standing in this one team, and I just looked around (I was the only black person) but still I just told myself I am created this way and I have to accept myself as I am?
What advice do you have for youngsters?
I think it’s just a positive mind, and not looking back and thinking about the yesterday. Make use of the today for a brighter future because if you plan well today and take the right decisions, and choose to be positive, that’s the only way to go.
There are still stumbling blocks, but to overcome the stumbling blocks, you have to be positive. If you tell yourself that you can’t, then you can’t, and you won’t.