South Africa’s Struggling ‘Retired’ Black Sportswomen By Cheryl Roberts

11 Jul



South Africa’s sportswomen struggle to achieve against the grain. Despite challenges encountered because of gender inequalities and discrimination, women in sport have emerged and claimed championship titles and medals. All sportspeople reach retirement date from competitive sport, when they call time and bid farewell to training and competition. It’s expected that international sportspeople don’t retire into a struggling life, especially after you’ve achieved for yourself and your country. 

After having served South African sport and represented our country internationally, several black sportswomen are struggling to survive.

It’s disheartening and painful to know of international sportswomen representatives struggling to survive, after they have retired from competitive sport.

It’s always a struggle and challenge for black women to participate in sport. It’s a tougher encounter for them to compete internationally, achieve world class performances, championship titles and medals.

South Africa’s black and working class sportswomen and women in sport are forever the struggling people, this after having realized their talent, trained daily for events and tournaments.

Amongst some of South Africa’s successful sportswomen who are battling to survive after retiring from international sport are Janice Josephs from Retreat, Babalwa Ndleleni from Crossroads, Jo-Anne Solomons from Cloetesville in Stellenbosch

Why should our sportswomen, who have achieved for our country and made us a proud sports nation, have to struggle when they retire?  These are women who competed in an era when sponsorship for black women in sport was almost non-existent. They were not paid professionals with lucrative incomes.

Ndleleni and Josephs were on Sascoc’s Operation Excellence programme which assisted and prepared athletes for elite participation such as world championships, continental events and Olympic Games. Ndleleni got R2 000 a month and Josephs got R6 000 a month from OPEX. Solomons received stipends and match bonuses from SFA when Banyana Banyana played internationally.

Josephs was a talented schoolgirl athlete. Her sports talent was noticed throughout her school years as SA schools champion in several athletics disciplines such as the sprints, javelin, long jump. She developed from the junior internationals to senior international, representing South Africa at several African and world championships.

Ndleleni got interested in weightlifting after being introduced to the sport at school in Nyanga, following a talk by the weightlifting federation. She went on to become Western Province and South African champion, won numerous African titles ad gold medals and clinched a hard earned bronze medal at the 2008 Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Solomons was a precocious girl footballer and played club and provincial football. Her talent didn’t go unnoticed and she was called South Arica’s women’s national team, played in African championships, friendly internationals and world cup qualifying events. She remains one of Banyana Banyana’s prolific goal scorers having scored 49 international goals. She retired from international football in 2006.

Josephs, Ndleleni and Solomons would love to be involved full-time in sport; to be coaching or managing girls and women in sport. Solomons is out of work, staying at home with her pensioner mother and still seeking work.

Ndleleni, 35 years old can’t find employment in sport, despite having a sports diploma. A mother of a 2 year old, Ndleleni worked in a call centre and now has an admin job but can’t survive on her income and provide for her and her child.

Josephs retired from competitive athletics, aged 32. Two years ago, she won a silver medal for SA at the African athletics champs in Benin. A few weeks ago, she hit rock bottom in her life and was forced to take cover in a shelter for homeless people in Paarl.

She had no income, no money to ay for rent; just a few possessions.

When the statistics are recorded, when the medals are counted and the accolades acknowledged for those who contributed to South Africa’s sporting success, the names of Josephs, Ndleleni and Solomons will be amongst those who have achieved.

But why, if the sportswomen have achieved and made their country proud, can’t they further be involved in sport. In the billions allocated to sport in SA, surely opportunities can be created for our international sportswomen to be kept in sport and help develop our sports girls and mentor our sportswomen.   

Admittedly there are some women who are able to work fulltime in sport, but these are just the few who manage to get a foot in and then hold on to their jobs. At the SA Sports Awards why are the women not asked to do award presentations? Why are people from outside sport like musicians and performers paid to do presentations whilst our black sportswomen are ignored?

SA’s black, working class sportswomen have worked really hard to participate in sport and achieve on the world stage. They have sacrificed personal wealth and income accumulation to develop their talent and win titles, medals and world class rankings.

Most importantly, its because they struggled against the odds an against the grain and showed that black women can achieve in sport that South Africa’s present generation of girls and women in sport can believe in themselves. It’s because of the women before them, that confidence is installed in today’s provincial and national international representatives.

Surely positions of employment can be created within sport for South Africa’s retiring sportswomen! They have dedicated their lives to training and achieving for themselves and their country but they are almost destitute in the very country they made proud.babalwa ndlelenijoanne solomonsjanice josephs

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