From playing in highly contested Varsity Cup rugby tournaments to helping Grade 8 learners at Jabulani Technical School in Soweto, the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) players do not tire from sharing their time with those who need their inspiration. Since their community engagement outreach launch in January this year, UJ rugby student-athletes and coaches have dedicated their time to sharing rugby playing skills and mentoring as well as providing coaching clinics to learners.
Thanks to UJ rugby coach, Muzi Mac Masina, young Grade 8 learners at the Jabulani Technical School have started playing rugby at their school grounds for the first time. Rugby and other sports codes went off the radar in South African townships, Masina argues, and the only way to bring sports back is through school alumni who played sport while they were in schools.
The UJ Rugby Club provided rugby balls, water bottles, and facilitated a UJ tractor to cut the tall grass that had grown on the two rugby fields at the school. With the trimmed pitches, the learners have since spent a month with coaches Vuyani Xundu, Aubrey Fana and Paseka Mavimbela training on passes, runs, and learning other beginners’ skills.
More than eight UJ senior rugby players travelled to Soweto on Tuesday, 28 February 2023 to offer their time and rugby knowledge to the learners.
UJ senior men’s rugby players playing with learners at Jabulani Technical School in Soweto
“The boys need a kit, rugby boots, and a few other training apparatuses for us to have a full programme. I am very happy that more than 25 learners have decided to join the team at the school. As soon as they have mastered playing rugby, they will be playing other schools in other areas in Gauteng and later other provinces,” says Masina, who is running the team through the Mac Masina Foundation.
According to Masina, the Foundation has engaged other organisations such as Gwijo Squad, Clinix, Worley, Inyanda Foundation and Girls and Boys Club to provide medical, structural plans and management assistance, among other items.
Training a young person who has never played rugby comes with unique challenges that need to be managed over a period of time, patiently. Mavimbela says there is talent in townships and it requires nurturing in order to bring it out in the open. Together with Masina, the three coaches believe that there could be a few learners who could emulate the success and talent similar to what Springbok captain Siya Kolisi has achieved.
“Obviously, it will take time. However, we have noticed a few boys here who could go all the way if they receive the necessary support and are consistent in playing rugby. In just one month of training them, some of them have impressed us. The more they play, the rest of the group will start showing improvement too. We have seen progress in terms of how they handle and pass the ball, make runs, knowing and understanding the rules and linking up play,” says Mavimbela.
The Mac Masina Foundation is premised on five (5) pillars, namely; sports, skills, facilities development, and providing bursary opportunities as well as psychological support to young people who play sport in townships.
The club is open to other township youngsters who are not enrolled at Jabulani Technical School. “We want these kids to excel both on the sport field and in class. We continue to look for more sponsors who can help in any way possible. We have the personnel to help the kids. We need well-kept facilities, balls, training equipment and other sports apparel to ensure that this initiative is successful,” Masina explains.
Netball and football will soon be added to the programme. “The school has supported our vision of bringing sports back to the grounds and encouraging the kids to play. Though the school does not have the resources, we believe that those who have played sport and lived in the communities can help us achieve this dream. It’s about giving back to the community and leaving a lasting legacy,” adds Masina.
Masina says that South African townships have abandoned sports in schools because there was not a sustainable programme in place. He says, “For some of us, we go back to help through sport because we see it as a calling and not a job. Although this initiative is starting to bear fruit now, seeing kids playing, the planning started about two years ago. It makes me happy that finally what we had aspired to do is taking shape.”
UJ Rugby Club donated ruby balls, water bottles to the learners and cut grass at the school grounds