Coach Thandeka Mhlongo takes us through her experience in South Africa of encountering gender based violence and inequity, and what being a female coach through PeacePlayers has meant for her.
How long have you been a participant and coach with PeacePlayers South Africa?
I’ve been with PP-SA for 15 years including 2 years of being a Coach.
You live in one of the top five biggest townships in all of South Africa – uMlazi. What was your experience like growing up in your section of uMlazi?
I live in uMlazi L section. I started living in uMlazi when I was 4 years old after moving from Kranskop, a city far North of Durban. Growing up in uMlazi was not bad because we have quality accessible schools and they are close to our homes. I’m a very athletic person, so it wasn’t challenging for me because I played whatever sport I wanted. Fortunately, they had and still have all the sports I like which are netball, basketball, athletics and soccer. Life was much better and safer back then because we would play on the streets the whole day without being worried about being kidnapped. I wouldn’t say I had a bad experience growing up in my community because people were so supportive, they treated all the kids around the area as their own. People were not exposed to drugs as they are currently. The only negative thing I noticed when growing up was that our parents were not happy with us playing sports because they felt that it disturbed us from school, and that made me lose so many opportunities. But I don’t blame them because I understand where they are coming from.
With Gender Based Violence being a major issue in South Africa along with the lack of female representation in leadership positions, how does it feel to lead youth basketball team’s who come from your community?
We live in a society where there’s no equality. Gender shouldn’t be a factor in whether or not a person can be a great leader, but it happens in our community because children learn at a young age that a man is more superior than a woman. At first they (youth participants) didn’t believe in me because they never had a female coach, so I had to work hard to prove that I can do whatever a male coach can. And that is another problem we face as females in our societies – to always feel the need to prove ourselves. I believe that we need to teach our kids to respect everyone irregardless of their gender. Because Gender Based Violence is caused by little things that we don’t pay attention to, like stereotypes and gender norms. Being a youth leader is not easy, but I believe in myself that I can make a change in my community.
Have you always had confidence and comfortability leading or did that develop overtime? Was there a particular turning moment or person who impacted your confidence?
Growing up, I never imagined myself being a leader one day. I was always comfortable being a follower. I was given so many opportunities to lead but I was too shy and did not believe I could do it. Until I met my first basketball Coach, Phumlani, also known as Cool P. He was a Coach back in 2006 when the organization was called Playing for Peace. He had the ability to see things that I was capable of, but I was not aware of those capabilities at the time. We had 4 team captains at that time (2 boys and 2 girls) and Coach Cool P always asked me to do the Captain’s responsibilities. He introduced me to different youth programs which dealt with developing leaders. These programmes led to me being a Coach with PeacePlayers South Africa. Being a Coach at PeacePlayers South Africa really helped me a lot in being confident and authentic.
What opportunities have been made available as a result of being a part of PeacePlayers South Africa that you would not have otherwise received if it wasn’t for the programmes?
PeacePlayers South Africa has introduced so many opportunities that I would have not known of if I wasn’t part of the organization. Firstly, they gave me an opportunity to be a coach. As a woman, it is rare to be a basketball coach because in most places or schools to be precise, they are specific that they don’t take female coaches. Secondly, I was given an opportunity to do a facilitation cause which I had no idea existed and how much it will help me in my career. This year again, I received an opportunity to study coaching science and I don’t have to pay for it (made possible through PeacePlayers South Africa’s partnership with *CATHSSETA). The list goes on and on… Not forgetting that I was selected as a LDP team Friendship Games Coach with the opportunity to go overseas to the Middle East. This hasn’t happened yet due to the pandemic, but this will be my first time going outside my country. I never imagined in my life that I’d ever go abroad without paying a single cent (made possible through PeacePlayers Global Friendship Games sponsored by Ed and Penelope Peskowitz). I will forever be grateful for all these opportunities.
* CATHSSETA – The Culture, Art, Tourism, Hospitality, and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority
During your early years with PeacePlayers South Africa there was no Women’s Basketball Festival but now there is a local festival annually. How has your experience been at the recent festivals?
I have only been to one girl’s festival. But the experience was inspiring. To see young women from different races and backgrounds engage together, it excites me to know that we are developing leaders who are smart and have the same goal as the organization – to bring peace and unity in our society.