Kgothatso ‘KG’ Montjane is a wheelchair tennis player, ranked 7th globally and number one in Africa. She is currently up for another Momentum gsport award in the category Athlete with Disability.
KG was born in Seshego, Polokwane in Limpopo, making her part of the Limpopo Champions League (a group of South African’s that come from Limpopo and have made the big time) – which includes Caster Semenya, Rachel Sebati, Refilwe Ledwaba and Sho Madjozi.
She was born with a congenital birth defect and went through a single amputation below the knee when she was just 12 years old. Life has thrown her quite a few lemons, but with a strong support structure, a great family and parents who support her wholeheartedly, KG has shown resilience and strength countless times before.
In 2018 this dynamic tennis player became the first African woman to play at Wimbledon, reaching the semi-finals.
This ambitious 34-year-old believes that she is not done yet and gave us some insight into her lifelong dream.
Congratulations on your nomination, Kgothatso. You are a four-time Momentum gsport award winner and the most decorated sportswoman with disability in South Africa, tell us what your feeling was upon being shortlisted?
For me it came as a big surprise. Maybe I underestimate myself, but I did not think that I’ve done enough, because it is never enough for me. But as surprised as I was, I was also grateful to be recognised again. It is truly an honour and I hope that this shows other upcoming athletes, especially those from rural areas like myself, that we never give up, we always show up and we keep on going. It is important for us to be represented at awards such as the Momentum gsport awards on an annual basis.
Your journey has not been easy but today you are ranked number 1 in Africa and 7 globally. Where did your love and passion for the game of tennis start?
At the very beginning of my tennis career, I was so fortunate to be part of the South African Paralympics team in 2008. Back then I did not even see it as a career as I was still at varsity and tennis was the sport I played.
I get to Beijing and not only do I get to play on Centre Court, but I always get to play in front of this huge crowd of supporters. That to me was the moment I decided to turn it into a career because if I can play in front of crowds like this, I want to be back. It was like a soccer match!
Afterwards I asked when the next Paralympics were, and they said 2012 and I replied that I wanted to be back. The crowd at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, China made me fall in love with tennis.
Besides the actual Games, was there another highlight of your very first Summer Paralympic Games?
It must be the McDonald’s inside the athlete’s village. All I remember is this big McDonald’s and the food was in abundance and free.
You were all set for this year’s Summer Paralympic Games. Does your qualification still stand, or would you need to requalify for 2021?
All the points have been frozen for the rest of the year and will be protected until the tournaments restart. Once the sport resumes and tournaments take place, I will then be able to play in tournaments just to ensure I have enough points to take me to Tokyo.
What is your vision for disability sports in South Africa and do you think that corporate SA can do more where funding is concerned.
Most definitely! I think Corporate SA can do so much more. However, first and foremost, we must create more awareness. I would really like to see people familiarizing themselves with the various disability sport codes especially in athletics – there are so many categories (T11-13, T20, T35-38, T40-41, T42-44). We need more programmes to educate society around disability sports then maybe, disability sports will be seen.
Back then people always thought disability sports were doing well because we had the likes of Natalie du Toit and Ernst van Dyk involved. Now, with both athletes retired, does this mean that disability sports are over? No, it does not. There are more athletes that need the exposure and sponsorship who are also able to compete on a world stage.
It takes a lot of courage for us as disabled athletes to take a sport and transform it into what it is today. It is not that easy to play a sport while sitting down. We must make more content available to society – radio, TV, print – and maybe then we will see the change we need to see as well as the investment from Corporate SA.
How do we as a country, differ from the rest of the world when it comes to the sponsoring of disability sports?
As a country we are so bad. Our country does not support disability sports. I look at athletes from other countries with full sponsorships and they are not even ranked in the top 20. It just shows you the support they get from their countries and that their countries believe in nurturing talent and growing champions, regardless of where they are ranked in the world. Their country supports them. Here, you get athletes with disability in the top 10 and they are still crying for sponsorship.
We must realise that it does not start at the top. A lot needs to be done at the grassroots level to reap the rewards at the top. However, many sponsors want the glory they get at the top and that is the mindset that needs to change.
In other countries you also see the difference in how their federations approached Covid19. The entire world was under lockdown recently, but their federations made sure their athletes are taken care of. Made sure they have equipment and support to remain physically and mentally fit. We did not get the same here. It is like we as (disabled) athletes are left to our own devices and the federations just swoop in when glory is handed out.
Who inspires you to continue to do what you do?
My parents inspire me in so many ways. I was born with a disability and they put me out in the world and made sure I lived a life. They could have gone the other way and hid me from the world. They could have been ashamed of me. But they gave me this life. They sent me to school, even in the turmoil 80s. My parents gave me life! Many children born with a disability did not even see the doorstep of a school but mine made sure I enjoyed all of life’s freedoms.
I went to school and I got a good education. I went to varsity and I got the opportunity to try a sport I did not even know about and today, here I am.
If you could achieve anything you wished for in your career, what would it be?
To win a Grand Slam! That is the end goal, that is the dream and when I do that… then I can hang up my racquet. I just want to win a Grand Slam soooooo badly and become the first African woman to win a Grand Slam.
How physically and mentally fit do you need to be to continue being one of the greatest in your sport?
Fitness is part of the sport; it comes with the territory. When it comes to tennis, it is more of a mental game than anything else. You need to have a sharp mind and you must be able to think a few shots ahead. You must know where you will be hitting next, what type of shot you will be playing, etc. and these decisions must be made before you even make contact with the ball.
On top of this, as a wheelchair tennis player, I must do all that and calculate my moves in the wheelchair too. I must ensure I am in the right position to execute my shots.
To stay mentally fit, I do regular breathing exercises and visualisation – both requires a lot of concentration, practise and discipline.
You are up against Anrune Weyers and Catherine van Staden – both first-time Momentum #gsport15 finalists. Does this add to the nerves?
I am nervous, but I am also so honoured. The nomination alone is a win for me. Regardless of who wins on the night, at the end of the day, it is another woman in (disability) sports getting the recognition she deserves and that is what it is all about: women excelling in sports.
You have done countless interviews before. What is the one thing that nobody knows about you?
What many people do not realise is that I am actually funny. People think I am this serious person but, in all honesty, I love to laugh, and I love making people laugh. But it also depends on the energy around me because I feed off other people’s energies. If it is a negative energy, I save the jokes.