Strong winds couldn’t shake this Natal football boss

Mary-Jane Sokhela
Mary-Jane Sokhela

If ever there is anyone who has scars to show for following her passionate love for football, Mary-Jane Nomthandazo Sokhela is such an individual.

It is no wonder that she remains a cynic despite her baby – Durban Ladies FC – having qualified to play in the national women’s football league that is envisaged to kick off in April next year.

And no one can blame her.

“Every time there is a big football event on the horizon, Safa promises a national women’s football league. It happened before the 2006 World Cup in Germany – there were promises before the 2010 World Cup and now with the Women’s World Cup next year, there is a promise of a league,” she said.

“I am, however, a bit hopeful this time because we have even been given the format of the league. One has to be a bit wary that we are now in December, but there is still no sponsorship.”

Mary-Jane Sokhela

But after the many hardships that Sokhela has gone through and her endless fight for women’s football, there seems to be some light at the end of the dark tunnel.

As she spoke to City Press yesterday, her team was in Kimberley preparing for the national Sasol League play-offs, which started in Galeshewe yesterday and will end with the champions being crowned on Sunday.

Sokhela’s long and winding dalliance with women’s football started in 1990.

“I grew up participating in athletics and ballroom dancing. I was very passionate about those two,” recollected the 57-year-old Sokhela.

“I fell in love with football at a young age as my father was a staunch Orlando Pirates supporter. He would gather us around the radio – remember there was no TV at that time – to listen to all their matches.”

It was in 1990 that she gathered a group of girls to start kicking a football around during school holidays.

“We were sitting and doing nothing, and I decided to start this project as I had started hearing people talk about women’s football.”

This initiative led to the birth of Umlazi Fast Eagles Ladies FC in 1990, which morphed into AmaZulu Ladies FC in 1997 after then AmaZulu coach Mike Makaab watched them play.

Durban Ladies FC captain Zinhle Shazi

“After the change of management at AmaZulu, working conditions changed and we realised that there was no interest in women’s football.”

Her despondency gave birth to Durban Ladies in 2001.

Despite all the difficulties and disappointments, she can look back with pride as her club has produced 19 players for Banyana Banyana to date, including former national team skipper Amanda Dlamini and former striker Veronica Phewa.

“Amanda came to stay with me when her father moved her from Port Shepstone [on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal] to study at Clairwood Secondary School. She stayed with me from when she was doing Grade 10 until she finished high school.”

It was then that Sokhela was approached by the University of Johannesburg, which offered to pay for Dlamini’s tuition. The rest, as they say, is history.

Durban Ladies skipper and right-back Zinhle Shazi was full of praises for Sokhela.

“She is like a mother to us,” Shazi said.

Asked about the national league, she said: “We don’t want to be big-headed. We have won our provincial title and are now aiming for the national one. It’s not going to be easy, but we are confident that we can take the trophy home.”

One of the scariest moments in Sokhela’s life was when she had to be escorted by security guards when she came to give evidence to the Justice Pickard commission in 1997.

“Things were so bad then that my and [renowned South African coaching instructor] Fran Hilton-Smith’s lives were in danger. I had received death threats as I had angered many male football administrators.”

Look at her now!

Durban Ladies FC

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