Zola Thamae is shaping the future of sport in the Free State
Free State’s future sports stars
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.
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.