It looks like most South African public schools do – a series of brown buildings, with not much of a sports field to speak of. But, unbeknown to many, Mziwilili Primary School, situated in Umlazi’s D section, is a breeding ground for much of the township’s cricketing talent.
Directly across the road from the school, Sibonga Mchunu (13), clad in gym gear from head to toe, is relaxing at home with his grandparents, Daniel and Sindi. “Cricket has made him very disciplined,” says Daniel. “He has just come back from a jog.”
Like many of his peers, Sibonga was introduced to mini cricket at the age of eight at Mziwilili by teachers at the school who teach learners the basics of the game. Coach Sandile Simelane of the KZNCU, DSR and Sunfoil Township and Rural Development Programme then moved him into Umlazi’s elite training sessions and there has been no turning back since.
Thanks to his talent, Sibonga – who is a spinning all rounder – was given an opportunity to complete his grade seven year (in 2017) on a scholarship at Merchiston Preparatory School in Pietermaritzburg.
This year he’ll begin high school at Maritzburg College, also on a cricket scholarship.
“It was difficult at first,” he admits, recalling with a smile that he failed the first boarding inspection. “I almost cried. But it was a big opportunity for me, so I got used to it.”
“I learnt that you can make friends and be part of a brotherhood.”
Sibonga’s grandfather admits that cricket is not a sport he completely understands. But his grandson’s passion for the game and his talent, has motivated him to learn more about it, and he makes an effort to attend his games when he can: “He made a 100 not out in his last game of the season for Merchiston,” he says proudly. “The coaches said this is very good.”
He credits coach Sandile Simelane for instilling a love for the game in Sibonga. “He took him from ground level and taught him.”
He says he is excited that his grandson can attend Maritzburg College. “Our grandchildren attend the schools here – we can’t afford other schools. We are lucky that by the Grace of God he has been given this scholarship.”
“I’ve told him to respect his elders, not to do drugs and to concentrate on his studies and sports.”
A few doors away, on the same street, Zanele Wanda is getting ready to send her son, Andile off to begin a new and exciting chapter of his life. Andile’s talent was also discovered at a tender age at Mziwilili Primary School. Last year he made the KZN under 13 side and impressed talent scouts. “The amount of pace and bounce he generates impressed them,” says Sandile, who has also worked with the youngster since he started playing cricket. Consequently, he was awarded a scholarship at Durban High School (DHS) and will commence his high school career there next week.
“I’m excited,” he says. “It’s the first time that I’m going to board.”
Zanele is slightly nervous. “This is the first time that he’ll be away from me,” she says. “But there are better opportunities for him to play cricket there and better academic opportunities.”
Andile will be joined at DHS by Lutendo Tsanwani who also made the KZN under 13 side in 2017. He was also introduced to cricket at Mziwilili Primary School.
“The learners feel like heroes playing cricket,” says Mrs Primrose Gumede, who teaches cricket at the school. “They enjoy learning the basics of the game and want to learn more and practise more.”
Sibonga, Lutendo and Andile and the numerous other former learners who excelled in cricket before them serve as inspiration to current learners she says. “They see how they got into good schools and they see them as role models,” she says.
Sanelisiwe Kuzwayo, the manager of the KZNCU, DSR and Sunfoil Township and Rural Development Programme says that the relationship made with various schools make it easy for her team to do what they love. “Primary school is where the love for the game and a life long interest in it is instilled,” she says.
“I’m very happy to see these results from our coaches – its creates that healthy competition amongst them and makes it easy to negotiate scholarships at cricketing schools.”
“The key here is to turn the African child’s challenges into opportunities – let them love these brown brick walls because at the end this is where all the good things begin!”
*The KZNCU Sunfoil DSR Township and Rural Development Programme nurtures a love for cricket amongst thousands of children across KZN. Most of the 48 townships and rural areas it works in don’t even have adequate cricketing facilities and the programme requires the support of corporates in this, as well as other aspects of its work. For more information on becoming involved, contact Sanelisiwe Kuzwayo at firstname.lastname@example.org