Good enough for olympics, but no support

2012-04-10 00:00

NINETEEN is a strange age to retire, but Banyana Banyana reserve goal- keeper Nkosingiphile Mphile Zungu is seriously considering hanging up her boots as she sees no future in soccer for women.

Zungu, who hails from Imbali Unit 2 in Pietermaritzburg, says: “I always thought that representing my country would change my life. I thought I would be able to change my family’s fortune because I am the breadwinner in a family of nine.”

When Zungu dropped out of college in 2009 to play for her country, little did she know that her sacrifice would be her worst career move, as professional league for women in South Africa­ remains an illusion never to be attained — at least not in the near future­.

Female players only get paid when they get a call-up to the national team because until a professional league is formed, they will not be paid for their silky skills like their male counterparts, many of whom are earning megabucks abroad.

Zungu is a superstar and a celebrity in her own right, and is mobbed by fans wherever she goes, but she says she envies the same people who adore her because they have paying jobs and careers­.

She was studying for an electrical engineering diploma when she dropped out.

“I committed myself to the national [soccer] team, but this has not paid dividends because it is difficult for women to make a success playing soccer­,” she says.

Zungu says she will quit after the Olympics in June, since Banyana Banyana­ have qualified.

“I would have quit this year, but I want to represent my country in the Olympic Games in London in June.”

After the Olympic Games she will return to college, not to study for a diploma­ in electrical engineering, but in sports management.

Zungu said her passion for soccer started when she was in Grade 11 at Fundokuhle Secondary School in Imbali.

“I love the game and having grown up playing football with boys it was easy to play [for Banyana Banyana].”

She began to take her sport seriously when the first opportunity for her to play at a competitive level came when she received a call from local club Real City.

In 2008, Real City coach Thabo Ngcongo­ converted her from a midfielder to a goalkeeper, which proved to be a blessing in disguise.

“I was lazy as a middle fielder and striker, so when I was converted to a goalie I became more focused,” says Zungu.

Her break came in 2009 when she was invited to the U17 trials by former Banyana Banyana coach and Bafana Bafana legend Augustine Makalakalane.

Zungu says that due to the lack of development in women’s football in Pietermaritzburg she is forced to play for a Durban team Barcelona FC.

In 2010, Zungu was part of the U17 national team, Bantwana Bantwana, that participated in the U17 World Cup Championships in Trinidad and Tobago.

Being a reserve goalkeeper for Banyana Banyana is not easy, but Zungu says that she enjoys the challenge.

Her mother, Nokuthula Zungu, says that when her daughter first told her of her desire to play the game, she thought it was just a teenage ploy to chase boys.

“It only dawned on me that my daughter’s soccer [talent] was serious when I started receiving letters from the South African Football Association [Safa] requesting my permission for her to travel abroad with Banyana Banyana,” said Zungu.

Nokuthula is now a proud mother and the pride of her community.

“I never thought that a woman like me would be blessed with a child who would one day represent the country,” she said.

Zungu’s friend and Banyana Banyana­ team-mate Zama Cele says they met in 2008 at Real City, and have been friends ever since.

She shares the same sentiments about the poor state of women’s soccer­ in this country.

“To keep fit we decided to look for teams in Durban as there are no formal­ clubs in Pietermaritzburg,” says Cele (21), who hails from Willowfontein.

Cele is currently studying for a public­ management diploma at the Durban University of Technology in Pietermaritzburg.

Cele, who plays for Durban Ladies, says South Africa has talented women­, but without support from local­ sponsors female players will never realise their dream of becoming professionals.

“At this rate we can’t even afford to pay for gym membership.”

“We appeal to the uMgungundlovu District Municipality, the Msunduzi Municipality and the business community to help us so that we can represent our country­, proud of the fact that we have support from everyone at home,” says Cele.

She says in other municipalities, female­ footballers are encouraged, through sponsorship, to carry on representing the national team.

Cele said that she wishes the same could happen in the capital city.

The lack of transformation at Safa forced the Commission for Gender­ Equality (CGE) to look into discrimination­ in South African football.

Its investigation revealed that Safa­ has not done enough to promote women’s football, but has, instead, focused­ on male football.

Last week, CGE called a public hearing­ to get views on measures to correct­ the situation, which is in line with the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.

• thobani.ngqulunga@witness.co.za

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