Rich life rough on kasi trailblazers

Ntuzuma, a township about 12km from central Durban, with its high occupancy rate, taxis and buses, is a world away from Glenwood, a suburb on the city’s lower Berea, known for its arty hangouts.

“Obviously, ma’am, on my first day of school here I was scared. It was the first time I’m coming to a big school with only white people and Indians. I was only in black people’s schools before that,” says Thamsanga Khumalo, who is from Ntuzuma and is a grade-eight pupil at Glenwood High School.

Khumalo is one of ten young cricketers – part of Kwazulu-Natal Cricket’s Township and Rural Areas Development Programme – currently based at Glenwood High.

Linda Zondi, the programme head, handpicks youngsters like Khumalo and arranges for them to attend cricketing schools like Glenwood, Durban High School and Pietermaritzburg College on bursary schemes. 

In his seven years heading the programme, funding has posed something of a challenge for Zondi. While he is able to expose the kids to club cricket thanks to assistance from the province’s department of sport and recreation, which – together with the KZN Cricket Union – foots a weekly transport bill of R40 000 (to transport 55 club teams to their Sunday fixtures), he recognises that school fixtures are crucial aspect to a young cricketer’s development.

Exposure is key
“The key is to ensure the kids from our programme receive exposure,” Zondi says. “By the time they go to SA schools cricket, it’s not about colour, it’s about performance. They would have played five years with the same kids at the same level.

“The key is to produce players who can represent KZN on all levels, hoping as they get older they will feed up to the Dolphins B team, and SA under-19.”

I meet Khumalo and some of his peers, with Kurt Donaldson, the director of cricket at Glenwood High, in new nets in the corner of Dixon, one of the school’s two cricket fields.

Donaldson, a former KwaZulu-Natal Dolphin, shows me a newly installed PitchVision system, worth about R100&nbp;000, that combines motion tracking and video analysis into one tool, before introducing me to the boys.

“They are all achieving awesome success here,” he says, pointing out Nduduzo Mfoza, the KwaZulu-Natal under-17 player of the year for 2013. “He was under 16, so obviously he’s playing above himself,” Donaldson enthuses. “He’s now in the school’s first side and he’s been included in the KZN CSA [Cricket South Africa] under-19 provincial camp.”

“It’s been a good experience,” says Mfoza, a left arm orthodox spinner, who has been at the school since grade nine. “We don’t get these facilities in the township.”

It’s difficult to believe that, for Sthabiso Zungu, who’s in grade 11, learning to speak English posed the biggest challenge when he arrived at Glenwood. He answers my questions in fluent English, tinged with a “white schoolboy” accent. “I just kept speaking English and listening to other people speak,” he says, with a grin.

Zungu is a top-order batsman who hails from Lindelani. “The facilities here are different to what we were used to. Here we have everything. The facilities motivate me to come and do more.”

For Lindokuhle Hlongwane, a grade 10 pupil also from Lindelani, the biggest challenge was fitting into the school’s boarding establishment (BE) in grade eight.

Buddying the prefects
“When I came, it was difficult. We had to buddy the prefects and there were many things we had to do. I just kept quiet and did what I needed to do. Now it’s just cricket and we have to study, so it’s fine,” he says.

Donaldson says: “When you come to the BE as a junior, there’s a lot of things you have to do, like carry the prefects’ bags, remove the cricket covers. It’s quite tough for the young guys who have never experienced that.”

Zondi doesn’t hide the fact that the adjustment to a more stringent disciplinary and academic set-up has been difficult at times. “We had two guys who we pulled out from other schools. They just couldn’t adjust, both behaviour-wise as well as academically.”

To counter this, he now starts many of them at primary school level at the nearby Glenwood Preparatory School.

“The earlier we get them the better,” says Brendon Hobbs, the school’s director of sport. “We have two in grade five, one in grade six, and three in grade seven. We have spent R30 000 on a programme that teaches them how to read, so on the days when they don’t have practice they’ll be in the library from two to four, working on their English and mathematics.

“By the time the two boys in grade five get to grade seven, they will achieve over 60%.”

But the boys in primary schools face different challenges. For starters, there are no boarding facilities. For them, a school day begins when most of their schoolmates are probably fast asleep.

Never late
“They leave home very early – many of them at 5am,” says Hobbs. “But they are always on time, they are never late. Sometimes they also get home late. I had a mum calling me last week at 7.30pm to say her child wasn’t home yet.”

On the night before a match, when they have to arrive at school even earlier, each one is “buddied” with a child from the area, in whose home they’ll stay for the night.

Hobbs says that primary schools don’t have bursary schemes so he largely turns to the school’s parent body for sponsorships of R25 000 a child, which covers school fees, transport and meals. Zondi brings in other funding.

It’s an investment that’s well worth it, Hobbs says. “Linda and his coaches have done a great job with these kids. They have the right ethos, they are respectful, their homework books are always signed and, on the cricket side, they are fantastic. They have taken our cricket to another level.

“Our other boys have realised they have to play at that level in order to get into the side.”

But for Zondi, himself a township boy, taking these youngsters out of their home environments is by no means ideal. He enthusiastically shows me a presentation on his laptop detailing his plans for a cricket stadium in KwaMashu, which could help to bridge the gap between rural and urban, and rich and poor.

But it’s a R55-million dream and, for as long as it remains one, this will have to do.

“This is how we are going to produce the Proteas,” he says. “Right now, we don’t have this [stadium], but each school – Maritzburg, Glenwood, Westville – does.

“But in the townships, we are looking for just one.”

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