Zola Thamae is shap­ing the fu­ture of sport in the Free State

Free State’s fu­ture sports stars

Public Sector Manager - - CONTENTS - Writer: Jauhara Khan

Raw sport­ing talent in the Free State is in the ca­pa­ble hands of Zola Thamae. She is the Di­rec­tor of Com­mu­nity Sport in the Free State De­part­ment of Sport, Arts, Cul­ture and Recre­ation af­ter be­ing ap­pointed in 2007. Thamae is the first fe­male Di­rec­tor of Com­mu­nity Sport in the prov­ince and is also the first fe­male Pres­i­dent of the Free State Cricket Union.

“I have a pas­sion for sport be­cause it brings peo­ple to­gether.

That has al­ways been at­trac­tive to me – the so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity as­pect of it. I want to know, what can I do to help other peo­ple? As you grow older you see your­self as be­ing very for­tu­nate in life, and you want to make a dif­fer­ence in other peo­ple’s lives,” she said.

In her role as Di­rec­tor,Thamae is re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ing young men and women who show ex­cep­tional talent for sport and giv­ing them a plat­form to grow into pro­fes­sional sports­men and women who can com­pete in­ter­na­tion­ally.

“We look at young peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing in mass par­tic­i­pa­tion pro­grammes, at grass­roots level, where they play for en­joy­ment, and help them take their skills to the next level. I iden­tify talent, place them in in­cu­ba­tion hubs and li­aise with se­lec­tion stake­hold­ers from all sport­ing codes to help young peo­ple ex­cel at a later stage as pro­fes­sional sports­men and women, and en­sure they are ready for high per­for­mance.The stars be­gin at my level,” she ex­plained.

Thamae also over­sees sports ca­pac­i­ta­tion, fund­ing and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of na­tional pro­grammes in the prov­ince that con­trib­ute to health­ier life­styles.These in­clude the Golden Games for se­nior cit­i­zens, In­dige­nous Games and Her­itage Games, sport pro­grammes for young of­fend­ers and other com­mu­nity-based ini­tia­tives.

Thamae said her ap­point­ment as Di­rec­tor of Com­mu­nity Sport more than a decade ago was made pos­si­ble through other women: the MEC and HOD for Sport in the Free State at the time – both fe­male – rec­om­mended her for the po­si­tion.

“I have been in­spired by them and the women of 1956 be­cause they lifted each other up. We must up­lift other women. Once we are in a bet­ter place in life, and we can help oth­ers, we should do so. We should not be com­pla­cent in help­ing other women,” she said.

Nat­u­ral flair

Thamae was born and bred in Port El­iz­a­beth. She showed a nat­u­ral flair for sport at an early age; grow­ing up in a town­ship, she played in school and in clubs formed out­side of school and chal­lenged teams from the sur­round­ing dis­tricts.

“I had a pas­sion for sport and I was al­ways try­ing new things. I was the cap­tain of the school net­ball team and I par­tic­i­pated in high jump. At that point in time, I was in­volved in ‘girl’ sports. I was only ex­posed to these kinds of sport. But I was also very tall so I be­came a de­fender. I was good at the game,” she re­called.

Af­ter school,Thamae pur­sued a Bach­e­lor of Arts de­gree in psy­chol­ogy and English, and a Bach­e­lor of Ed­u­ca­tion in man­age­ment and lead­er­ship. She also holds an Ad­vanced Diploma in sports man­age­ment. She has worked in the pub­lic ser­vice for 31 years, be­gin­ning her teach­ing ca­reer in 1987. Back then, she was the phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion coach and would or­gan­ise school trips for the girls’ teams to com­pete in in­ter-school tour­na­ments.

She played a role in sport out­side of school as well, vol­un­teer­ing with var­i­ous govern­ment sport­ing struc­tures as well as the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, be­fore leav­ing teach­ing in 2000.

Tak­ing cricket to new heights

Thamae be­came in­volved in women’s cricket af­ter be­ing re­cruited by the late Han­sie Cronje’s father, Ewie, who asked her to lead the de­vel­op­ment of the women’s form of the game in the prov­ince.

“I was serv­ing in the Na­tional Sports Coun­cil in the late 1990s, and they were look­ing for some­one vi­brant to start women’s cricket. It was a chal­lenge be­cause I didn’t know any­thing about the game. I had

to learn – I went for um­pir­ing cour­ses un­til I was con­fi­dent enough to know what to do.”

Thamae re­cruited girls from across the prov­ince, es­pe­cially in Bot­sha­belo town­ship, where she would trans­port them to games 50km away from home.

She has since served as Pres­i­dent for Women’s Cricket and as man­ager of the South African Women’s Cricket team.The lat­ter brought much suc­cess, in­clud­ing win­ning the na­tional Un­der–19 Women’s Cricket tour­na­ment, and two of her pro­tégés from Bot­sha­belo, Masabata Klaas and Mar­cia Nape, were se­lected to play cricket at na­tional level with Cricket SA.

“Tra­di­tion­ally, cricket used to be a white male sport. But it has grown and be­come com­pre­hen­sive and given women the chance to play. But it isn’t easy; we are al­ways try­ing to lobby and look­ing for peo­ple to play,” she said.

In 2013,Thamae was named the first fe­male Pres­i­dent of the Free State Cricket Union, af­ter serv­ing as vice-pres­i­dent. She is cur­rently in her sec­ond term. She was also the first woman to be elected as a full mem­ber of Cricket South Africa’s Gen­eral Coun­cil.

In 2014,Thamae was named Sports Ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Year at the na­tional De­part­ment of

Sport and Recre­ation’s an­nual Sports Awards.

Thamae said she no longer lets male prej­u­dice af­fect her abil­ity to do her job.

“I felt a lot of pres­sure when I first started out in sport.When you’re a woman, peo­ple don’t ex­pect you to get any­thing done. Men can get away with many things, but when women take on these roles, the binoc­u­lars come out. Peo­ple think,‘Can she de­liver, can she do this?’You have to pre­pare twice as hard as a man. But once you de­liver they say, ’Ok, she knows what she is do­ing’. But it doesn’t get to me any­more. It is ex­cit­ing to bring moth­erly love to this job. Moth­ers al­ways make a plan. We do things dif­fer­ently.”

Thamae be­lieves women are in a greater po­si­tion now to have an in­flu­ence in sport.

“Women are be­ing given their due now, with times and so­ci­ety chang­ing. Once women be­gan to be ac­knowl­edged by the laws of the coun­try, it forced peo­ple to look at gen­der is­sues and give women the op­por­tu­ni­ties they de­serve, and women are show­ing that they can de­liver,” she added.

Thamae, who loves to travel and has vis­ited sev­eral coun­tries on the con­ti­nent and abroad, said her dream is for more women to be­come in­volved in sport.

“Women must not be shy in tak­ing cen­tre stage, in be­ing bold. They must not think, peo­ple are look­ing at me and crit­i­cis­ing me. I en­cour­age women to be­lieve in them­selves. If you don’t be­lieve in your­self, no one else will. Find a men­tor to help you, and don’t be afraid to make mis­takes be­cause you can only grow from mis­takes,” she said.

Zola Thamae is the Di­rec­tor of Com­mu­nity Sport at the Free State De­part­ment of Sport, Arts, Cul­ture andRecre­ation.

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