Images Courtesy of gettyimages/FIFA.com and BackpagePix for Cricket SA
(Published - 22 August 2019)
It wasn’t a surprise when number 11 received the ball outside the Spanish box and proceeded to score with an exquisite chip in the top corner. At once, history was made. That number 11 became the first South African women’s footballer to score in South Africa’s first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup match.
We have come to expect these kinds of feats from our Thembi Kgatlana. The trajectory of the UWC alumna on the world footballing stage illustrates she doesn’t do half measures. Over the past year, she has been voted Africa’s top women’s footballer and scored a wondrous goal at the most recent African Women Cup of Nations (Women AFCON) tournament.
But it is Thembi’s ability to take this all in her stride that is a trait of UWC athletes. There is a resoluteness in our athletes that is rarely seen anywhere else. Thembi spoke of it when she visited the campus earlier this year to celebrate her achievements.
“As a black female athlete raised in the township, we are often faced with challenges, and I had to learn to rise above all negative things to reach my dreams,” she told the cheering crowd. “It is not easy making a career out of football in South Africa as there are no professional football teams here. I hope my story of success inspires and serves as a beacon of hope to all young women... I would like to thank the UWC community for the support they have given me over the years.”
Thembi’s story must not lull us into a false sense about exactly how difficult it is for women athletes to succeed. Even when women athletes rise to the very top of their sport, as is the case with SA athlete Caster Semenya, the world will find a different way to place obstacles in their paths.
At UWC, we seek to enhance the student experience by offering the widest opportunities possible for our sportsmen and -women to excel. Sport can open the door to tertiary education. Once a student enrols at UWC, they must be under no illusion that their primary focus will be the academic programme — the variety of co-curricular programmes and activities on offer are geared to enhance their academic performance.
We are not an institution that sets out to produce Banyana Banyana or Springbok Women’s players. But when we do, it is because there is a very deliberate programme of action in place to give students every possible chance to succeed.
It is no accident that at UWC, five of its former women’s footballers are in the Banyana Banyana squad. At least 10 more play professional football around the world. These women are able to lead on the field of play at the World Cup, in the boardroom or in the science lab precisely because they have received a student experience at UWC that has prepared them for every scenario life throws at them. They will — or have — graduated from UWC knowing that while a sportswoman’s life has a short lifespan, there is a career waiting for them the day they retire from sport.
In this special edition of the Blue and Gold magazine, to commemorate Women’s Month, we celebrate our UWC women in sport. All of these remarkable stories have a common thread: Resilience, courage in the face of adversity and the dogged determination to never give up.
Yet, these women are not only (s)heroes of sport; they are so much more. They are the next generation of remarkable SA women in science, health, education, the arts, research, technology and academia.
Professor Pamela Dube
Student Development and Support,
University of the Western Cape
This article was first published in the Women's Month special edition of the Blue and Gold - UWC Sports' official magazine. Read the full magazine here.