Lifelong sport advocate, Nomsa Mahlangu, has challenged herself to ensure that talent on the continent is nurtured to create better sporting opportunities in the future.
For many years, African athletes on and off the field staff, have had to leave the continent to take their careers to the next level. However, as a woman who has managed to make her mark in Africa, Mahlangu believes that Africa needs its own blueprint to solving the unique issues met by athletes on the continent.
Although tough to admit, one recognises that there’s a perception in the world that Africans are accustomed to frequently receiving aid from the rest of the world instead of taking matters into our own hands and creating our own paths.
The President is hoping that through her leadership and role in the Federation of Africa University Sports, she will change this impression and give hope to the current crop and future athletes. Mahlangu wants the future leaders to always know that they are capable of overcoming challenges on their own to benefit the continent.
To achieve this, education is a factor that will propel us to overcome our own challenges, a factor that Mahlangu is passionate about. She believes that education and sport is like a marriage and cannot be separated.
Her incredible journey so far called for a chat with Celine Abrahams as she unpacks her life story.
Thank you for joining us President. How has life been for you over the past few months?
Well, I’m good. I’m good. I’m just working from home and honestly, I haven’t really adjusted to working from home, per say, but I try to stick to normal working hours. I try to be in my study by 8am until late afternoon around 5pm. Also, if I take my laptop with me to my bedroom then I have a problem (laughs), so I try to stick to normal working hours, using my study which is my workplace to do as much as I can. I really try to keep my work out of my personal space. But, ah, it’s been a challenge.
What did you have to do differently during this time and how did it impact your work?
Well, we have done a combination; I prefer for work purposes to use TEAM App, as we are all on there. We get to record our meetings and we get to do a whole lot of other things on TEAM – it’s much safer – but, for the other structures that I serve in we use ZOOM and Google Meetings. But it gets tiring, the screen-time isn’t good. I’m actually considering going to buy a bigger screen because this laptop screen is now getting to me. I mean, we spend almost 8 hours of our time in front of the laptop, glued to the screen, whereas before we could easily just go into a meeting and at times we didn’t even need to have a laptop. So now this change has been quite an adjustment.
We recently chatted to you about the two new categories added to the 15th edition of the 2020 Momentum gsport Awards and you pointed out that this is a step in the right direction towards uplifting women in sport. Kindly elaborate further on this view.
I think this will also allow people to learn more from others. If a sports administrator or a coach from Uganda gets recognised then more people in their own country will get to know what that person does and other people in other parts of the world will then realize that women are actually moving in their own spaces. In a way it is a catalyst that will help propel women in different directions in sport because we’ve had the Woman in Social Media, Woman in Media (awards) and I think for me, it gave women in those spaces something to look forward to, something to aspire to because all those who have been nominated and won before, are now inspirations to other women.
So, as I like saying, everyone must aspire to inspire the next person. This is a great platform to try and solidify women in sport on the continent because we might have other awards but do we really focus on the continent and what women are doing? Not necessarily. But I also think, it then pushes women to try and do better. If you have done so much in the past 10 years, set a goal for yourself that you will then be able to achieve in the next five years.
As a Ministerial Award recipient on the gsport Awards stage, what are your views on the growth of the initiative?
I think that it is something that has actually given women in South Africa something to look up to. I think a whole lot of young girls and women who are involved in sport, they all look forward to the Awards, they all look forward to nominating someone, they all look forward to seeing if their nominee is going to win, so in essence it is some sort of incentive and encouragement for women in different areas. This is something, well I have said this to Kass before, she has actually given more women a reason as to why they must do more because when the awards started it was just a matter of you being recognised, a little gift here and there and now there is a pipeline.
“More and more can be achieved, probably look at an opportunity or scholarship by linking up with a university. I am actually thinking about this now, where those athletes who win in their respective categories are afforded a scholarship as long as that athlete is in a sporting code that UJ offers.” – President of University Sports South Africa.
So, the awards itself has grown through the years and the impact of the awards is actually much greater and bigger. More and more can be achieved, probably look at an opportunity or scholarship by linking up with a university. I am actually thinking about this now, where those athletes who win in their respective categories are afforded a scholarship as long as that athlete is in a sporting code that UJ offers.
Honestly, there’s limitless opportunities and I think with such initiatives it is possible to be innovative in what we do and how we do it.
What are your thoughts on grassroots level sports in the country?
I think that there is a lot of work that needs to be done and we can’t try and look away. Reality is that Model C schools, private schools, yes they offer sports and yes their schooling programmes are well constructed, managed and they get to compete, but my biggest challenge, concern and nightmare is what is happening in our public schools and specifically schools in our disadvantaged communities and in locations. I think the government, private sector and schools themselves; we need to try and invest more in sport within those communities. But, also, there’s a need for South Africa to re-look at physical education in schools because when I was in school there was a period for it where all of us were involved and engaged. In essence, it is something that kept us active and currently, they have tried to use Life Orientation, but it is actually not yielding the results that are supposed to be yielded.
So, South Africa as a country and this is something that must be done at policy level, we need to re-look the offering of physical education but over and above that, for South Africa to be able to compete in the Olympics and in World Cup’s, we need to fix the development pipeline. What I mean about fixing the development pipeline, for example, federations go out there and do different things, cricket has mini-cricket programme, but what happens after the kids leave that programme? It means that we need to have our grassroots programme, school sports programme, universities and then our professional sport, so that as a country we can then say that we are doing something right in terms of our development pipeline.
Also, particularly important for us as a country is to start promoting dual careers. By dual careers I mean as an athlete, for example, Tatjana Schoenmaker who is a top athlete in the country, but also importantly for me, she is a student. She is studying towards a particular qualification. So, while athletes pursue their different passions in sport, it is important to also to have a professional career outside sport because the lifespan of a professional athlete is noticeably short, regardless of what sporting code it is.
Therefore, as soon as they finish competing in the different sporting codes, they can then go on to practice in different factors and areas. For me, sport and education are a like a marriage, you can’t separate the two.
How has been the journey as a lifelong sport advocate?
Wow, I’ve always loved football and as a young student back in the day I was in student politics, so when I got to varsity, I realised that there was something wrong with the system. There was almost every sport for men but basically nothing much for women. So I asked my comrades to employ me in sport because I want to see something (laughs) and I got into the sports council and we introduced women’s football and a few other sporting codes as well, but my focus was on football. This was back in the 90s, 1996 if I’m not mistaken, I was elected to represent football in Gauteng, and I started serving in different capacities and at a different level.
I made it to the national structure and back in 2009, I was the first women ever to be elected on the SAFA Board, which is the SAFA Executive Committee. And, I have always made it my business that whenever I get involved, this thing of the first narrative actually irritates me because what do you do when you are the first? When you become the first then your responsibility is to bring other women on board. So, I made it my business that the following election at SAFA in 2013, I ensured that more women were elected. Three of us were then elected which pushed the numbers up and we continued the fight, we fought for 30 percent that we didn’t get, we were trying to fight for 50 percent representation but again we didn’t get it but the one achievement that I will always take and pat myself on the back was that at least we constitutionalised the fact that at least one Vice-President must be a woman, which was an achievement in terms of football.
“I went to the Director of Sport, Ewie Cronje, and said that there’s no women’s football so I would like to volunteer to start a women’s football structure and he asked me how much I would want to get paid for it and I told him that I didn’t want to get paid, I just wanted his support.” – Mahlangu points out a time she volunteered to start a women’s football structure at Free State University.
But also, you know that I am at university sports, so my entire life and my career as a sports administrator has been within universities. When I went to study in the Free State, I found the same thing of there being no women’s football at the time. So, I went to the Director of Sport, Ewie Cronje, and said that there’s no women’s football so I would like to volunteer to start a women’s football structure and he asked me how much I would want to get paid for it and I told him that I didn’t want to get paid, I just wanted his support.
I started working with him and I think three months later he called me into his office and he offered me a position of being a Student Assistant in the department and I think he started paying me R1000 or something like that, I can’t really remember. So, we started working and we got the women’s football structure running. A year later, he said to me that I was ready to be a Sports Officer and that is how I became a Sports Administrator within universities. I stayed with the Free State University between 2001 and I left them in 2012. I joined Durban University of Technology from 2012 until the end of 2014 and then UJ in 2015.
Between 2015 and now, we have done a great deal of work at UJ. I always say to people that UJ is the most transformed sports division throughout the country, regardless of how you look at it. UJ is one of the few institutions that have so many women each department, we are the only institution that tends to have black coaches in the so-called big sporting codes like rugby and netball. Bongiwe (Msomi) joined us towards the end of last year and a lot of people were questioning me pointing out that she is still an athlete and yes she is, but it is important that she finds a way to transition.
We have taught ourselves to transform in the way we think about things and as part of our UJ values, innovation is one of the key things that we are responsible for. And, over and above my job at UJ, I serve in a number of sporting structures – I am currently the President of University Sports South Africa and as I said to you earlier, I believe that universities throughout the country have a great role to play and they need to do more in terms of sports in their different areas because you find a university in every province but my question is: what is our contribution as universities towards our communities?
Since 2018, at UJ we have been running a girls’ football league and this year we wanted to introduce a cricket programme. We introduced women’s cricket at the university, but we also want to extend what we do to the communities out there, around the UJ Soweto Campus and we are looking to get into Sevens rugby for women, to try and ensure that we expose women to different sporting codes.
I also serve in the Federation of Africa University Sports. There is so much that we need to do on the continent and honestly, it keeps me awake at night, sometimes I want to cry when I think about the things that we do not do as Africans and it’s not that we are not capable, I think we were just exposed to a lot of handouts. We need to start using African solutions to solve our own problems. I don’t believe that we must always look for aid in order for us to be able to do things within the continent. There is so much expertise on this continent, but we tend to continuously want to look away. We want to look at Europe, Asia, yes there are things that we can take away and I think one of the things which is my responsibility in this instance is to ensure that I become an advocate for Africa and as Africa we need to invest in our own but also ensure that we nurture talent in such a way that our talent will feel no reason for them to leave the country or the continent to compete elsewhere because of better opportunities. These opportunities need to be created on the continent!
A word of advice for young girls who aspire for leadership roles such as your own?
Nothing is impossible! Your dreams are dependent on you to become a reality. Believe and action will make things possible. One thing you must understand that as long as a man can do it, trust me you can do it too. And, I usually say that women do it better!
Photo 1 Caption: President of University Sports South Africa and Federation of Africa University Sports, Nomsa Mahlangu, pictured at the 2019 Momentum gsport Awards where she was honoured with a Ministerial Award for her outstanding contribution to sport as well as women in sport. Photo: gsport