Chaplain at Athletes in Action Sduduze Ajanako dreams of paving the way where there will be a spiritual mentor in every sport and team all over the country from grassroots to national teams.
Hailing from Esikhawini in KwaZulu-Natal, Ajanako joined the sports ministry as she saw a gap and need for pastoral care within sports especially in Africa.
Ajanako is a former University of Johannesburg football player who was influenced by her family to play sport from a young age.
Since then, Ajanako has been dedicated to the game which has seen her play her part in the Athletes in Action Rio Olympics project.
Speaking with Tlamelo Kganakga, Ajanako reveals what she would change in the South African sport industry and overcoming challenges.
Sduduze, thank you for chatting to us. Please share a brief background of yourself.
It’s an honour to join you for a chat, thank you so much! I was born in the northern KZN and grew up in small township called Esikhawini. I’m a township girl that was immensely impacted by the influence of family, sports, education, and community. After Matric, I went to study and play soccer at University of Johannesburg. I’m currently working for Campus Crusade for Christ under a sport ministry called Athletes in Action.
Please tell us where did your love for sport begin?
The love of sport was injected in me at a very early age. My parents were huge soccer supporters – most of our weekends were spend watching soccer and the day would end with a family braai.
Well, as I eluded earlier that family, school sports and community played an integral part in my love for sport. I was so privileged to live in a community that took sports seriously. We were spoiled for choice, there were teams in almost all township sections from track and field, netball, soccer, basketball and even dancing. We had to participate in something to make friends and to have that sense of belonging. I started with netball, high jump and at the age of 14, I got my very first soccer sting and the rest is history.
You played football for UJ and the USSA team. Please tell us about your football journey and how it was for you during that time?
Yes, I did. I cannot talk about my journey at UJ and not mention Sbu Mthembu, Sylvia Kabane, Joel Kgokong and the late Coach Mokoena. These are the people that made UJ soccer a home for me. I was so blessed to be part of a team that pioneered excellence, commitment, dedication, and a winning mentality. In hindsight, I see how UJ football imparted so many life principles that are still applicable in my life today.
Playing for USSA National Team opened a different world altogether, I can safely say that USSA had a huge influence on the woman that I am today. The international standard of competition exposed all my fears and helped me to discover a lot about my gift as a player, what I stood for and what kind of a legacy I wanted to leave behind.
In fact, it was at the World Student games in Shenzhen China 2011 where I felt the call to join sports ministry with Athletes in Action because I saw the gap and need of pastoral care/sport Chaplaincy within sports, especially in Africa.
Please tell us more about Athletes in Action.
Athletes in action is a global organization present in more than 60 countries all over the world. We are devoted to developing total athletes, coaches, and administrators through integration of faith, life, and sports. My job as a sports missionary is to help develop athletes physically, mentally, and spiritually so that they can reach their full potential. This is achievable by building relationships that lead to evangelism, discipleship/mentorship, leading team bible studies and through chaplaincy (pastoral /spiritual care).
Who are some of the sportswomen you admire and why?
I admire the strength and courage of all sportswomen and women coaches. To me, you are a true inspiration, the amount of hard work, sacrifice, and commitment you put day in, and day out shows your passion, grit, and willpower. I want you to know that we see you and the work you put in is not in vain the next generation will surely thank you for it. Keep going.
What has been some of the challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenges in my career is exposure and manpower. The solution is what I call the ministry of presence, to continually avail myself to serving teams as a chaplain, and be present on campus to connect with student athletes.
Lastly, by building a good relationship with coaches and administrators. This strategy continues to help move the ministry forward.
What would be some of your highlights to date?
Joining the Athletes in Action Rio Olympics project in 2016.
Serving USSA as National Team Chaplain.
Becoming a mom to my special baby boy.
What is your greatest ambition?
I dream of a day where there will be a spiritual mentor/ chaplain in every sport and every team all over the country from grassroots to the National teams.
What is it that people don’t know about you?
I want to buy a sewing machine and start making my own clothes as a hobby.
If you could change anything in the South African sport industry, what would it be?
Investing more time, finances, and expertise from grassroots level upwards.
What is your advice to aspiring players?
Sport has a power to change the world – those were the words of Nelson Mandela. With so much influence at your disposal, I would advise every aspiring player to first invest in knowing who you are, what you are gifted with and find out what your why is (why do you exist?). After you have done that, work hard at achieving your goals, follow your passion and live a purpose driven life. The next generation is counting on you.
What do you think we as media can do to amplify women’s sport?
Firstly, I would like to commend gsport for the work that you are already doing. Over and above that I would want to challenge people in prominent positions to overlook gender and focus more on performance, delivery and capitalize on that.
Photo 1 Caption: Chaplain at Athletes in Action Sduduze Ajanako dreams of paving the way where there will be a spiritual mentor in every sport and team all over the country from grassroots to national teams. Photo: Supplied