From the garden to the tennis court, Durban’s coach’s remarkable tale

Simphiwe Ngema at the Westridge Tennis Stadium.

WHEN former President Nelson Mandela said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire.

It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.

It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” he knew and had seen how sport can be used to transform and unite people from all different backgrounds.

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A rising star in tennis coaching and development circles, Emmanuel Ngema, who has been instrumental in transforming and taking tennis to the townships in and around Durban, works as a Development Officer at Ethekwini Tennis Association (ETA).

Two years ago Ngema had 20 black players, today he boasts more than 150 players and has a national champion in his stable to boot. Ngema, who has been involved in tennis for more than 30 years shared his remarkable story on how he got involved in a sport more often associated with the affluent with Berea Mail.

“As a young school-going township boy we knew that if you wanted to buy delicacies like Amagwinya (fat cakes) you had get those weekend garden work jobs at white households. It was then that I was introduced to tennis, in-fact you can say I found this sport in the garden.”

“Mr McMillan whom I worked for in the early 70s had a tennis court and he was the one who taught me tennis and introduced me to the sport. I was quite reluctant at first, I was used to playing soccer, but then because I believe in God, I thought it was God’s way of communicating with me and saying here is a gift, you can use to change your future. After that epiphany, I decided to open my heart and gave it my all. After some time my mentor saw my talent and proposed that I should become a member of his tennis club (Prospect Tennis Club) in Durban North. However, because it was during apartheid there was a lot of resistance about them allowing a black person to join the club, but through his insistence they agreed to have a look at me,” said Negema.

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“A tournament hosted annually by the club, was were I was going to be assessed and it would be decided whether I could join or not. We prepared intensely for this tournament. At the tournament, I beat everyone I faced in the tournament and was crowned champion. As I was walking away with my trophy, a man challenged me to a game. According to him, a black person could not beat him.”

“We set up an appointment for the next day after school. He came to pick me up in his bottle green BMW at the bus station and took me to tennis club for our game. I gave him a serious thrashing! It so happened that Eddie Macdonald, a famous coach whom I didn’t know then, was watching from a distance. He invited me for another assessment, and was impressed with my skills. From there he helped me become a complete tennis coach. He trained me for three years and used his own money to send me for coaching tests in Johannesburg, to get my coaching badges,” added Ngema.

Some of the kids who are trained by Emmanuel Ngema.

Ngema’s career into development started in 2014 and it was just a year later in 2015 that his charges went on to win the SALGA games and brought the trophy to KZN for the first time.

Again last year the team went on to successfully defend the title and judging by the squad he now coaches, more silverware is coming.

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Despite the few challenges faced by the kids, as many practice barefoot and dont have proper tennis equipment, ít has not deterred their spirits. According to Ngema, the love for tennis in the kids he trains has been phenomenal.

“I have trained many national tennis champs and to mind comes, Sindi Mbatha who at ten went on to become a national champ, but because of lack of support Mbatha could not further her career. I strongly believe that if she had received proper support we could be having an international champ. I have also trained very formidable professional tennis players and coaches like Thavenshni Pillay, Thiru Govender, Saven Moodley who become the first Indian professional coach in the country. I am not going rest until we have an international champion in the mold of Serena Williams,” said a beaming Ngema.


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Rudy Nkgadima

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