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Ken Borland

Posted on July 09, 2024 by Ken

As I discovered on a recent tour of development areas in Gauteng, there is absolutely no shortage of enthusiasm for cricket in these parts, but it is astonishing how little agency these players and coaches have when it comes to pursuing their passion.

Despite all the money and effort poured into developing cricket in previously disadvantaged areas over the last two decades, my sad, overriding impression is that things are actually getting worse, not better, when it comes to elevating Black African talent.

The obvious obstacles like poverty and a lack of facilities still remain, and have been worsened by the socio-economic situation and the dysfunctional education system in which the majority of children in this country find themselves. The common absence of support networks in disadvantaged communities is an off-field burden that makes on-field performance that much more difficult.

The vast majority of transformation success stories come from children who have received bursaries to established cricket schools, but this means they are taken out of their communities, which brings with it a host of new obstacles. Often these pupils are thrown into former Model C high schools without being able to speak English or having slept on a proper bed before.

Many of the concerned parties interviewed said there has been a decline in both the number and the quality of coaches provided for development cricket, but there are many other factors beyond the influence of Cricket South Africa that stifle the success of their efforts to grow the game in previously disadvantaged areas. One wonders how much talent does actually get into their pipeline? Sadly, the rest is just left to fend for itself, trying to overcome the sort of challenges we delve more deeply into below.

Decent facilities available, but controlled by bad landlords

Katlehong Cricket Club was formed in 1997 and currently has 112 players, spread through four junior teams between U8 and the U16 Colts, plus two senior teams. Nolo Phasha has been the head coach since 2016 and he has a Level II coaching certificate.

Phasha says the club’s most pressing need is for their own ground or even just a proper turf pitch to use. He bemoans the fact that the club cannot use the nearby fields of the Huntersfield Stadium, due to the meanness of the landlords, the Ekurhuleni Metro.

“In 2019, the Easterns Cricket Union built two nets at the Thuto Pele Secondary School but we have nothing. We can’t afford to use Huntersfield Stadium because in 2019 they told us it would cost R500 a game. It’s a municipal-owned facility, so why are they charging us? How are we expected to expand the game in Katlehong?

“So most times we just use tennis courts to practise, we have no choice but to work around it. The senior team has just one practice a week, on a Saturday, and then play on Sunday.

“But because we have no home ground, we play all our matches away, we have no choice but to travel. Easterns help with the transport costs, but we get food only when we play against the traditional clubs like Alberton, Kempton Park and Benoni Northerns. So the kids are starving most of the time,” Phasha says.

Nageng Primary School, in Vosloorus,was one of the best cricket schools in the Easterns union, and SA A batsman Lesiba Ngoepe was a student there, as was Easterns batter Lerato Langa. They had a dedicated coach in Eddie Meko, who was in charge of cricket there from 1988 to 2017, when he handed over the reins to Semakaleng Mathibela, a former Nageng pupil who was a talented cricketer and is now a passionate coach.

“I played cricket here since I was 10 years old, moving from mini-cricket to hard-ball cricket. Before Covid, we had eight teams and two of them were Boksburg Schools champions, we were always playing and competing. We had a ground behind the school we used, but when we came back, our equipment had been stolen and the field had been vandalised by council building a concrete path right across the field,” Mathibela says.

So from being able to play just about for free at their school, the Nageng Primary cricket teams now have to play their matches almost exclusively away from home, thereby incurring costs this struggling but orderly school can ill afford.

“Facilities are now a struggle because we play most of our games away. Our community never sees us play now and potential sponsors from the community want to see you play at home. So I take money out of my own pocket for food and transport, I use my own phone for admin. I end up not having time for my own family, but I do it because cricket is my passion,” Mathibela adds.

Meko, now retired, remembers the glory days of Nageng cricket with fondness.

“I was a soccer fanatic, but because of my love of sport in general, when Bakers Mini-Cricket came to the school in 1988, I wanted to know this new sport. We were then the only school producing cricketers in Vosloorus and pupils would go from the school leagues into the adult leagues.

“We had a field, we had a home ground. Teams like Parklands, Boksburg and Baanbreker used to come there and we competed with them. We also played in the Peermont competition with Thokoza and Katlehong and took the trophy. We won the title in another tournament at Westwood in Boksburg.

“Lesiba Ngoepe started playing when he was seven years old, although his Mom said he mustn’t play. Now he has built a home for them because of the progress he has made in cricket. Semakaleng was also one of the best U13 cricketers we had. So it makes me very angry when I see cricket in Vosloorus heading in the wrong direction,” Meko says.

Meadowlands Primary School had one of the top development programmes in Soweto and produced Central Gauteng Lions and North-West stalwart Kagiso ‘Jonty’ Rapulana. They were a successful cricket team in junior township competitions, but no longer as their nets have been done away with and a neighbouring church is disputing their use of the Shako Bowa Cricket Field.

The plight of the talented

Itumeleng Letwaba started playing cricket seven years ago in Grade V at Fairways Primary School, practically next door to the Wanderers Stadium.

“I saw cricket on TV, I was watching the Proteas, and I saw Black players and thought let me try it,” Letwaba says. “I put up a mirror at home which was quite long and tried to imitate the bowling action.

“And then I saw some friends playing and joined in properly. Soon I was playing on Wednesdays against teams like St David’s and KEPS. It was like starting a new journey because I was the first one in my family to play cricket.”

But he soon found out how his enthusiasm could not make up for the obvious uneven playing field.

“There was a lack of coaching and that affected our mentality. We had the talent but we lacked confidence. No-one believed we were good enough, the other teams always seemed to be one step ahead of us, and I did not challenge myself to be better than them because I wasn’t confident enough,” Letwaba explains.

“And then David Mashiyi came to coach us and then we did not lose a game, he changed the way we think. He tried to get us to play more, against clubs and other schools in the area, and for us to push for provincial teams.

“We were getting better, you could see the results. So the provincial selectors invited some players to trials. We thought we could be better, but we felt intimidated at trials seeing the other guys with their full cricket bags. We just thought they would obviously be more skilful.

“They split us Fairways pupils up depending on whether we were pace bowlers, batsmen or spinners. So I was in a different net to my friend, who has a bit of weight on him. But parents were asking ‘Why is he here?’ and putting him down. He was actually better than most of the kids there, but this treatment just lowered his confidence. We felt alienated, like they had sidelined us,” Letwaba says.

Letwaba did, however, make the 2016 area team. But his ill-treatment did not end there.

“I am an all-rounder, but I did not bowl or bat on the first day of the tournament week, on the second day it was the same, on the third day the same. I bowled on the last day. And this was with Black coaches from Zimbabwe.

“I felt like I was not meant to be there, I was not doing what I love, I wasn’t given a proper opportunity to show I can do this. And the other players did not care about me, they stayed together, sharing snacks which they would not offer me. Their parents were always around too, but I did not get any encouragement and I did not feel part of the team. Plus I had to pay money – R1500 – to play.

“My father played a big role in my cricket, along with David Mashiyi. They really fought for me to bat or bowl. David would pick me up and take me to trials and training, and my father told me to keep pushing, he told me I can make a life out of cricket,” Letwaba says.

Mashiyi, a Level II coach, helped to get Letwaba into King Edward VII Preparatory School, where he earned colours for cricket, football and swimming. But the feelings of insecurity remained.

“Things changed a certain bit, but not a lot. I was shocked I was in this school, they taught me the culture but I still felt sidelined,” Letwaba says.

“They put me in the B team and they were good to me for two or three weeks. I felt that they could see I was good. But then we got a White coach and I was dropped down to the C team.

“I’m not playing cricket anymore, even though I enjoy bowling and batting. I just could not take it anymore, my father knows the reasons although he was very disappointed. His support played a big role, he told me to keep fighting, but it was just so tough to progress to a higher level.

“I took it to heart, I didn’t want to quit but I was mentally weak. I decided to concentrate on soccer and now I have a trial with a First Division team,” the tall, athletic Letwaba says.


Having taken up cricket at Bramley Primary School and then done well at Glenhazel, Tsepang has now gone to a high school with miscellaneous disciplinary challenges and no cricket.

“In Grade IV at Bramley, I had to choose a sport. I saw cricket and thought ‘let me try’. Catching, batting, learning how to bowl, I went through the whole process and the more you learn, the more fun it gets,” Tsepang said.

“I then went to Glenhazel Primary School for Grade VI and VII and they said I was a good bowler and batsman. I then went to a high school where they have a field and equipment, but they only play soccer and netball. I keep asking them why we can’t play cricket and they just always have excuses.

“The environment there is not good, the kids are gambling and smoking. Some of the pupils don’t play any sports, they’re just on their devices all day and then they smoke drugs and some have committed suicide. There is no sport teaching at this school.”

The club that is making a difference

The Wanderers Cricket Club was established in 1888 and quickly thrived to become one of Johannesburg’s leading clubs. But being attached to the Wanderers Club, one of the most aspirational clubs in Gauteng, also means members generally come from more affluent backgrounds.

But in this day and age, clubs have to attract more diverse membership and it is also necessary, and right, to provide opportunities for those who were disadvantaged prior to the dawn of democracy in 1994.

Realising that the club had to evolve in order to survive and that Cricket South Africa could start to harry amateur teams into fielding more players of colour, Wanderers adopted a progressive attitude.

Graham McMillan, brother of the mighty Proteas all-rounder of the 1990s Brian, is the director of cricket at Wanderers and he is firmly resolved that there has to be a level playing field for cricket development to succeed.

“We are part of the pipeline that is meant to be bringing through Black African players, but we just weren’t getting them as members, our club doesn’t really fall into their demographic area,” McMillan said. “In terms of Black players in the club, we had 52% coloured, 3-4% Black African and the rest were Asian.

“We realised that Cricket South Africa would probably start imposing a lot more stringent targets, but it was also a moral imperative and a no-brainer in terms of the sustainability of the club, to get more Black African players in.

“We realised we can either buy them from other clubs or raise them ourselves. We prefer the grassroots approach and that money that would have been spent buying players can now go into coaching and enhancing our development programme,” McMillan says.

While school cricket is a traditional strength in the more affluent former Model C schools, there is a huge gap when it comes to the game in the majority of schools in this country. The Wanderers cricket development programme is enjoying much success as they service this vital segment of the pipeline.

“School sport is basically divided into two streams. You have the traditional cricket-playing schools like St Stithians and St John’s and KES. But then you have the non-traditional schools.

“We have nearly 150 kids playing at the club on a Saturday morning and 80% of those are from non-traditional schools. We start from the U7s and go through to the U13s.

“Then they graduate to playing with the 15 and 16-year-olds on a Sunday. We also have a Colts team for the U16s to U18s with two adults playing with them. From our Sunday Sixth League team, we’ve had nine guys make it to the Sunday First League team and a couple in the President’s B League.

“The cream will always rise and this is the third year we have been doing this. We have a good relationship with the Department of Sports and Recreation, they are very supportive. And we partner with Jackie Mafa and his Golden Bells Cricket Development organisation. He has bolstered our women’s cricket and brings eight or nine players from Ivory Park for our women’s section. We hire a taxi for them and that costs R2500 per weekend,” McMillan explains.

The guide

David Mashiyi is a cricket coach who is the director of the Champions Drive NPO, which supports the development of sport in underprivileged schools and clubs, through participation; and not just of the pupils but the parents and teachers as well.

He has been praised for changing lives and giving hope to some of the most disadvantaged youth in the country.

“Cricket development can save the lives of children because it can take them away from the societal issues they face like domestic violence and exposure to drugs. We try to give them the best options for life and it’s all about mentorship and education,” Mashiyi says.

Originally from Cape Town, Mashiyi remembers his own difficult experiences as part of the Western Province Academy.

“I would have to leave Gugulethu at 4am to get to the train in time and often I couldn’t afford the ticket so I had to dodge the conductors to get to trials and practice.

“I was thrown into a high school on a bursary when I couldn’t speak English and I had never slept in a proper bed before. And then you have to go on tour with the rest of the team … ”

But for the last 10 years, Mashiyi has been the guide to many schools and clubs, helping them find sponsors, paying them regular visits, pushing the importance of an holistic education, organising kit for them, co-ordinating coaching and the playing of fixtures.

Mashiyi is no rabble-rouser nor divisive trouble-maker, just someone who is passionate about children fulfilling their talent, but he has some explosive things to say about cricket development.

“Both the Langa and Ngoepe Reports said not enough development is being done. But this is not a racial thing, it’s about incompetence.

“We can complain or get up and do something, and I’m trying to change the lives of children for the better, but sometimes I feel I’m not appreciated. The people sitting in the offices don’t see what is happening on the ground.

“What’s happening to all that money for development? Soweto gets the most money but kids there still don’t have the right attire or they are going hungry. Schools have nets built for them but they don’t play cricket! There is no follow-up.

“Hubs don’t even have their own grounds, they are all owned by the municipalities. And Easterns has just two Hubs – Duduza and KwaThema – but no Vosloorus Hub. Central Gauteng has six Hubs but Easterns has much more players,” Mashiyi complains.

A glimpse into a positive future

But to end on a positive note, Lyndhurst Primary School has given a glimpse of what the future could be like if passionate cricket development starts at the bottom.

Andrew Matatanye is the sports co-ordinator and he has introduced squash, tennis and golf, as well as cricket, to the school of 1065 pupils. On Fridays the teams go to the University of Johannesburg to enjoy their facilities.

A cricket team catering for U9s to U13s is in place, with increasing numbers suggesting a 2nd XI will soon be fielded as well. Mashiyi takes them to watch cricket at the Wanderers and private coaching, including by Graham McMillan, ensures they are very well trained.

The school has slightly more girls than boys, and they are on a drive to get more of them playing cricket.

Tebatso Mangena is the cricket co-ordinator at Lyndhurst and she speaks of the challenges, but never seems to veer into negativity-land or stop smiling.

“Transport is one of our challenges, getting the kids back home after cricket. In terms of infrastructure, we have our top field which is used for many different sports. It has a concrete slab in the middle for cricket, but it is our only field. We are fundraising to try and improve our facilities.

“There’s no sport that is just a male game or that only men can coach. It’s just about wanting to learn and our teachers have that mentality that they love to pass on knowledge. Cricket is not just for boys and we are trying to inspire more girls to play,” Mangena says.

“We’re just trying to change the lives of these children, the majority of whom come from Alexandra, and we would not be here without the teachers, and we know headmaster Mr Wellington Shaw also supports us,” Mashiyi adds.

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