ONE of the most vivid memories of my early years was when my father, Mzwandile Mali, and his friend, Nkwenkwana Thomas, took my brother, JB, my friend, Ciko Thomas, and I to a rugby match at Dan Qeqe Stadium. In between their socialising and our playing around, they managed to “lose us”.
We were helped by people who knew them and made it back home. Our mums hid us from my father and his friend, and made them suffer by making them continue to look for us.
This incident, though unfortunate, was one of my earliest experience of golden age of township rugby at the Dan Qeqe, Adcock and Isaac Wolfson stadiums. From that day, the love and passion of this great game has been a part of me and a strong bond with my late father.
He was a keen sportsman who excelled in rugby, cricket and athletics at school and club level. His best sporting years were at Cowan High where he distinguished himself in sports. Rugby in particular was one of his great passions and he is fondly remembered by his peers for all round rugby skill and acumen.
As a father he was ever-present, strict, inspirational and motivating, and he laid a sound foundation for us in education, religion, culture, sports and general manners and upbringing under some of the most challenging of times. He instilled in us a competitive streak, a deep respect for sportsmanship, a passion for success and a drive to always be on top of one’s “game”.
Since his death in 2010, I have sought to walk in his footsteps through honouring the things he was passionate about, namely his broader family, education, culture and youth development by contributing to promoting these around the Eastern Cape. The one area missing was in rugby development.
My father was highly critical of the current rugby development, particular in the Eastern Cape, the cradle of black rugby. He firmly believed that a sustainable rugby development programme should entail dedicated coaches, teachers and administrators; a vibrant and competitive school rugby environment; well organised club rugby steeped in the traditions of the Eastern Cape rugby culture; individual and corporate sponsors willing to invest for the long term; government support in terms of facilities, curriculum and resources; and, most importantly, exciting rugby that would bring back the crowds.
In my father’s time there were great rivalries between Newell and Cowan high schools, while in my time I participated in great derbies: Mzontsundu vs Masibambane; Mzontsundu vs Thamsanqa and Ithembelihle vs Newell playing against and alongside players like Siseko Tshanga, Namhla Mjo, Xhanti Lamani, Andile Nyembezi and Kevin Mtyeku.
Both during my father’s playing days and mine, the rugby was entertaining, the support was enthusiastic, and the organisation was voluntary and enthusiastic. We need to rekindle that spirit, using the little resources at our disposal, utilising the basic infrastructure we still have, and taking advantage of the experience and insights of former players and coaches.
I consulted my former school rugby coach, Theo Pieterse from Ithembelihle High School, to put together a tournament for township schools (initially). I asked him to partner with my brother, Xolisa Mali, a well respected sports administrator in the Border area.
These two have done so much for sports development in their areas, sacrificing their own time and money, providing transport and accommodation for kids and ensuring that young people develop as well rounded adults. Having been taught by both of them, and inspired by their drive and commitment to grassroots sports, I have asked them to organise the first Mzwandile Mali Memorial Tournament to be played from tomorrow to Saturday at the Oval grounds in New Brighton.
It will be contested on a knock-out basis by the following schools: Mzontsundu Secondary School (I played for them), Thamsanqa High School, Cowan High School ( my father played for them), Ithembelihle High School (I played for them), Newell High School (I played for them) and Chubekile High School. Numerous team and individual awards, and prizes are to be won
The idea is to grow the tournament, finance it annually, involve the rugby and government authorities, and attract modest sponsorship. My aim is to link these schools and players with the rugby Craven Week, and with established schools and players.
I hope that through this small start we grow into an established route for our players from school rugby to provincial and national rugby.
Lincoln Mali, Port Elizabeth