KZNA's global achiever

2013-08-21 00:00

SELLO Mokoena (48), current president of KwaZulu-Natal Athletics (KZNA), is a man of integrity and principle, a man who has enjoyed a varied and colourful journey through life.

He knows what it’s like to be humble, to face the good with the bad and to make the most of what life offers, without wanting anyone to feel sorry for him.

Mokoena is a man who has looked at life from the poorest of beginnings, worked with what he had and, like a plant needing water, has grown with every experience, to be respected in the business and sporting environment.

“I was born a farm labourer’s son in Heilbron in the Free State. My primary school was on another farm, eight kilometres away, meaning a 16-kilometre round trip every day for me,” said Mokoena.

“I never walked to school, I ran. It became natural for me, like breathing. That is where my love for running and athletics stems from.”

As with many rural South Africans at the time, Mokoena never finished school, working for two years on the maize and dairy farm where he was born. He was 16 and it was his first job. It was there the seeds of determination to make something of his life were sown.

“It was the best university in life. It taught me that there are no short cuts to anything,” he said. “My destiny was in my own hands, and I found this a physical and spiritual time.”

After two years as a labourer, Mokoena changed gear, obtaining his matric in Sebokeng, where he started running again, choosing the sport as his extramural activity. His first official road race was in 1981 and it was the beginning of his lifelong relationship with the sport.

In 1983, he started the Lekoa Running Club, which is still active, and two years later, Ennerdale Athletic Club was up and running.

In 1986, Mokoena arrived in Durban, where he has remained. Perhaps it was his destiny to make Durban his home, as his achievement in turning around the state of KZNA is a shining example to other unions in the country. His financial and business skills have turned the organisation around, rescuing it from a dire financial crisis. His efforts were worthy of a mention in Parliament by the minister of Sport as an example of how to run an efficient operation.

“I looked around and wondered what had happened to athletics in South Africa,” said Moekena.

“In 1992, while we rejoiced at the unification of our country, it brought about the end of this era.

“I saw athletics at provincial level begin to suffer through poor administration, which, in turn, saw many talented athletes lose interest in the sport. There was plenty of talent at all levels and in all provinces, but there was nothing to encourage them to stay in the sport and go further.”

Realising that the solution to getting athletics back on track lay in the provinces’ own hands, Mokoena started assisting at administrative level in KwaZulu-Natal. After getting a cold reception initially, he decided to run for the presidency of KZNA in 2008, withdrawing before the elections.

“I withdrew because I felt I was not prepared and ready for the position. Last year, I took it on again, doing it properly by introducing myself to clubs and running a small campaign,” said Moekena.

“I won the election and took up office in April [2012]. My motivation for taking the position was the lack of athletic development and the poor administration, which had left the organisation in more than a mess.”

With no policies or systems in place, Moekena began a rebuilding process, establishing committees and running the show in a structured, proper way. It paid rich dividends as the bank statements turned from red to black.

“It’s about making good use of finances and spending public funds on the correct projects. We currently have a development programme with elite athletes from the province training for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics,” said Mokoena.

“However, we cannot rest on our laurels as the work is never finished and I am never satisfied. Not only have the finances been turned around, but we are getting athletes back into the sport.

“This year, we have given licences to more than 12 000 athletes and last year’s KZN champs in Durban saw 700 competitors, with the stands full — a sight not seen since the eighties. Just over 200 athletes were at the pre-season track-and-field event last year and this year we shot up to 603. The sport is growing again.”

Despite his good work, Mokoena is not standing for re-election in 2016.

“Elections are every four years and if I cannot make a difference in that time, it will never happen,” he said. There is always someone who can do the job better and change is good. It allows others to focus and get involved.”


• He is fluent in eight of the official 11 languages in South Africa.

• Outside of athletics, he is dean of the Health Sciences faculty at UKZN Durban and has a degree in optometry, running a part-time clinic at McCord Hospital. He also has an MBA in commerce and works at Regent Business School, lecturing and running the centre for entrepreneurship, assisting people in starting their own businesses.

• Although he loves golf, the closest he has got to the game was caddying when he was in Johannesburg.

• One of his two sons is a rugby player, slotting in at wing. Because of this, father and son never miss a Sharks game in Durban.

• AmaZulu are the Durban soccer team he supports, but in the bigger scheme of things, he is a Chiefs man.

• He enjoys food he prepares himself and when it comes to meat, he enjoys nothing better than a good old South African braai.

• Animals and pets are close to his heart. He has dogs, cats and birds at home, and loves nature. He relates this to his growing up on a farm.

• He plays the trumpet, which he learnt at school, and plays the instrument at his church. His music preference is home-grown, enjoying the culture and tradition of South African music.

• He reads academic journals, and gets articles on commerce and industry published in Internet journals.

• If he is near a screen or TV, he watches sport. For relaxation, he enjoys getting back to the farm environment.

Mokoena quotes:

“The solution to South Africa’s social and economic problems lies in small business development.”

“People need to be taught to be job providers, not job seekers.”

“God has given us everything. We have it all but we do not have investment in human resources.

“Sport changes our character. It teaches us values in life, how to handle defeat and how to be humble. These are fundamental elements in life”

“I love gardening. It’s made me who I am today. I worked in gardens in the suburbs of Johannesburg on Saturdays and Sundays, earning R10 a day. That R20 a weekend was enough to get me through school and pay for what I needed.”

“Today’s youth need role models and goals. These role models must be sport related and not politicians.”

“Extra mural activities should be compulsory at all schools. It’s a life skill and great starting point for children to develop character and set their path in life.”

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