We were standing alongside the main cricket field of the University of Fort Hare rural academy that Ngam runs in the heartland of Black African cricket, shortly after Cricket South Africa and Momentum announced that they are going to invest significantly in the joint venture programme that is undoubtedly going to produce successors to the likes of international fast bowlers Ngam and Makhaya Ntini, both of whom come from the same area.
Earlier, Raymond Booi, the Border Cricket Board’s high performance coach, had pointed out Mdingi village, lower down in the foothills, where Ntini and more recently Aya Gqamane (who, according to CSA development consultant Greg Hayes “never missed the ball with his plank as a little youngster”) come from.
Thando Mnyaka and Somila Seyibokwe are also members of the Warriors squad who hail from the same area and have all come through the Fort Hare academy.
“Vuyisa gave up cricket, he wanted nothing to do with it. But I managed to convince him to come and register at our MSC Business College and for the last two years he has been with the Warriors,” Ngam says.
The educational aspect is a key component of the program, because not everybody is going to make it in top-class cricket, as Ngam stresses.
“We are trying to build holistic cricketers, they must study and play. When we first started, nobody wanted to study but these kids need to understand that they need something to fall back on. That also takes the pressure off them when it comes to playing cricket.”
As a company, Momentum have placed a special emphasis on education leading to financial wellness, and Danie van den Bergh, the head of brand, said the academy is a perfect fit.
“They’ve built a dream here, we love it and we have bought into it. It’s a common thread in Africa that education is a key to success and if we can link sport to education then we can leave a legacy long after our six years with Cricket South Africa are over. It’s about long-term values and spreading the love of the game to everybody,” Van den Bergh said.
Amongst the improvements recently completed at the academy are a residence for the 15 cricketers per year that are in the programme, indoor and outdoor nets, a pristine outfield, large sightscreens and an electronic scoreboard.
If this initiative could be repeated in all the provinces, imagine the talent that could be unearthed and, as CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat pointed out, the rural areas have also produced legends such as Dale Steyn and Lance Klusener.
But the one characteristic that most rural areas in this country share is that they are poor and the Eastern Cape is particularly hard up, judging by the condition of some of the roads and abandoned factories. But nevertheless they are rightfully proud of their history and what they have produced, including numerous great leaders starting with Madiba and Oliver Tambo.
“The University of Fort Hare has a rich history and people know about it without knowing where Alice is! A former ICC head, Ray Mali, comes from here, as do two former ministers of sport, Ngconde Balfour and Makhenkosi Stofile. There are also famous schools like Lovedale and Healdtown here.
“It’s a tower of knowledge but people in the Eastern Cape are so poor that they don’t benefit. But they’ve built a beautiful facility here where African cricket was first played,” Border president Thando Ganda said.
“We’re very humbled that CSA are using Fort Hare as a venue. We’re often second-best in Border but an academy like this, with its unified approach, is something different and we’re sure cricketers from here will now come out on top,” Noel Knicklebein, the university’s deputy registrar said.
The likes of Queen’s, Dale, Selborne and Hudson Park have a close relationship with the academy and boys placed in those schools have regularly made provincial teams. Two girls from the programme have gone on to represent the Proteas Women and eight other students have successfully completed their varsity degrees.
The hills of the Eastern Cape have once again started to provide memorable talent.