I have no doubt that captain Ramela will have his charges fully behind him
DRIVING through Soweto on Saturday, I passed historic landmarks such as Diepkloof, the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and signs pointing to the Hector Pieterson Museum. I couldn’t help but be overcome by emotion.
I had been to Soweto before – twice in fact. Once to watch the Stormers lose to the Bulls in the 2010 Super 14 final at Orlando Stadium. The other occasion was the “Mandela Day” celebrations when Bafana Bafana and the Springboks played on the same day at FNB Stadium in 2012.
But my latest visit was entirely different, though. I was at the coalface of the town that changed South Africa forever. The heartbeat, the epicentre of where the revolution to overthrow the previous government began.
Just across the mine dumps, a mere 10 minutes away, is where my in-laws live. The pre- viously white-declared Afrikaans town of Florida that is now home to majority coloured and Cape Malay folk.
Wide open roads and large plots are common in this area, with gardens often the size of a small park. It was the perfect breeding ground for the brothers Jantjies – Springbok flyhalf Elton and younger sibling Tony – to develop into professional rugby players.
In complete contrast is the South Western Townships. I struggle to make my way through the narrow streets with my nine-seater mini-van.
The cluster homes are closely situated alongside each other and the only grass patch I can see for miles is occupied by a heard of grazing cows. It is hard to imagine a professional sportsman hailing from these parts.
So, why do I find myself here? I am picking up the newly-elected Cape Cobras cap- tain Omphile Ramela at his family home. Unable to turn down his street due to the size of my vehicle, I ring him up to say I am waiting on the corner. Ramela says he will only be another few minutes.
While I wait, a group of children gather around the shiny car. Ramela doesn’t make me wait very long. He emerges from the house sporting a fresh haircut, his Cape Cobras tracksuit and looks very much like the prototype professional cricketer. “The image is important”, he tells me. “It gives kids something to dream about.”
The children who had gathered around the car catch a glimpse of Ramela and immediately rush towards him.
They cling on to his every limb and a 10-second walk takes a bit longer as Ramela stops to greet every one of them and also the elder folk that have come out to wish him goodbye.
He is accompanied by his father and brother. He introduces me to his father, an elderly gentleman whose best years have since passed him by.
With loads of people all around the car now, it is clear to see that Ramela is a hero to everyone in this area. This becomes abundantly clear when upon pulling away, another man sporting a tattered Gauteng Cricket Board tracksuit top stops the vehicle and instructs Ramela to roll down the window.
I enquire if the jacket was a “hand-me-down” from when Ramela still played schoolboy provincial cricket up here in Gauteng. Ramela corrects me and tells me that the man is in fact a car guard at the Wanderers and one of the most loyal Highveld Lions supporters.
They engage in a lively Tswana conversation, with the gentleman offering Ramela some advice on how to play the cover-drive which I gather from his left-handed batting actions.
Ramela bursts out laughing before the man turns in my direction and says, “Heita!!! Ke ngwana wa Rona, o mo thlokomele”. Realising I don’t speak Tswana, he quickly translates and says, “Look after this one. He is our pride and joy.”
Having had the privilege of his talent being noticed at a very young age, Ramela was awarded a bursary at the prestigious St Johns High School. It was there that his natural cricket ability was honed, resulting in Ramela becoming a regular in the Gauteng agegroup teams.
It was not enough, though, to secure a future post-school and it was then that Ramela moved south to Stellenbosch to further his studies at Maties. Although he became the first black African Maties First XI captain, his cricket career had stalled for a few years in the provincial semi-professional environment at Boland.
Although he had a couple of outings for the Cape Cobras, it was not going to pay the bills long term.
But such is the fierce determination of this young man, he was intent to make the best possible use of the opportunities afforded to him. A Masters Degree in Economics was achieved and Ramela no longer needed to rely on the unpredictable nature of professional cricket for a future income.
However, with Cricket South Africa aggressively pursuing transformation within the sport it governs over the past couple of years, it afforded Ramela the opportunity to nurture and develop the talent he possessed at franchise level.
The 27-year-old has since not looked back. A heroic bat- ting performance in last season’s RamSlam T20 Challenge final saw him creep into the hearts of the Newlands faithful, while he lifted his firstclass game to an even higher level with a double-century and century in the last two rounds of Sunfoil Series cricket. A glorious century for SA A against India A recently further underlined his talent.
Ramela will face the challenge of an often fractious Cobras dressingroom. There will be those who will question his authority, with Ramela not having played fully-fledged international cricket yet.
Ramela, though, demands a lot from himself, his coaches and his teammates and through his meticulous preparation, astute cricket brain and intense desire to succeed, he will soon have his charges fully behind him.
The image is important,” Ramela tells me. “It gives kids something to dream about.”