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Bela-Bela's unlikely golfers are found in unexpected places

Johnny Masilela

The golf course of Bela Bela is popular with previously disadvantaged players.

Some of Bela-Bela's financially challenged golfers started out as caddies during the apartheid era. (Oupa Nkosi)

Municipal worker Bantala Dikgale is better known for his dexterity with a pick and shovel.

You see the lanky man in the streets of downtown Bela-Bela, spinning and throwing a pick into the air, drawing whistles from his fellow workers.

With the speed of lightning, he rubs his hands together, catches the pick, swings the steel back into the air and brings it down hard on the road under repair.

Come chaile (knock-off) time, Dikgale and the other workmen heave themselves on to the back of a municipal truck and then shower at the municipal works department headquarters on the outskirts of Bela-Bela.

But when his colleagues head into the township for a calabash of sorghum beer, Dikgale changes into inexpensive but smart golf attire, heaves his bag of clubs over his shoulder and heads for the local golf course to perfect his swing.

Visit Bela-Bela on any Monday and you are likely to bump into pensioner Jeremiah Morerwa, pushing a wheelbarrow, from time to time stopping to collect items for recycling.

Ol’ man Morerwa, like many of the locals, is prepared to do any kind of menial labour to raise money for green fees, or perhaps new golf shoes.

It was heartwarming the other day when I bumped into Morerwa, who was carrying a brand new golf bag.

When I wanted to know what had happened to his old one, he replied he had sold it after winning the new one at a tournament at the Akasia golf course in Pretoria.

The majority of the poor golfers of the Waterberg have no cars and those in Bela-Bela often have to carry their golf bags across the Bela-Bela-Modimolle railway line and through the surrounding forest before reaching the club house.

The golf mania among the poor of the area dates back to a time when the Dikgales and Morerwas were employed as caddies for the largely Afrikaner golfing community of Bela-Bela.

Madori Kutu, a retired electrician, tells of the olden days when many of the caddies would secretly sneak on to the erstwhile whites-only Warmbaths Golf Course in the early hours of the morning for a clandestine round of golf, while the caretaker and green keeper, one Vermaak, was still asleep.

On a sad note, the Bela-Bela golf course is neglected and falling into disrepair.

Local golfers such as Dikgale, Morerwa and Kutu have to hitch a ride to neighbouring Modimolle for a proper round of golf.

Otherwise, they have to settle for the local soccer grounds to perfect a good swing.

Johnny Masilela is a veteran South African journalist

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