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In search of the 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 be- cause 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 par- ticipating 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 ca- pacitation, 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 pos- sible 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 struc- tures 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 develop- ment 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 Botsha- belo 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 male prejudice affect her ability to do her job," she said.

Thamae believes women are in a greater position now to have an influence in sport and 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 becauseyou can only grow from mistakes,” she said.

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