Photo Credit: Cricket South Africa
Eight years ago, six young men living in Batlharos, just outside Kuruman in the Northern Cape, had a dream – they wanted to see cricket being played by the children of their community.
They sat down, spoke about it enthusiastically and then mapped out a plan. Within months, their dream became a reality as they brought 12 and 13-year-olds together during Easter of 2015 for a small festival of cricket.
By doing this, the six men – the late Boikanyo Makatong, current head coach Thapelo Maemela, Omphile Maemela, Olebogeng Mothelesi, Bakang Mothupi and Mpho Maemela – had laid the foundations for the what stands today, the Kalahari Eye Warriors (KEW) or Kuruman Hub. Now under the flagship of Cricket South Africa (CSA), it is a flourishing Hub that is unearthing dozens of promising young players each year.
“It started as an idea between friends,” the head coach says. “We completed matric and weren’t doing too much so we decided to bring cricket alive in our community as most of the schools were not playing the game at that stage. We approached four schools within our community, namely Robanyane Primary, Moholeng Primary, TT Lekalake and Vlackfontien Primary, and began to work with them early 2015 where we coached boys and girls at Under-13 level and ended up hosting a tournament over the Easter period and this was where it all began.”
The competition was a huge success for Maemela and his friends, catching the eye of the provincial headquarters, Northern Cape Cricket, who threw their weight behind the project with equipment and some financial aid.
With this backing, they were able to put together a more structured system that allowed for the initiators to begin working towards their formal coaching qualifications, whilst at the same time overseeing what was a blossoming cricket environment for young previously disadvantaged children.
As time progressed, the Hub began hosting KFC Mini-Cricket festivals, together with playing matches against more privileged schools in Kuruman and even participating in local age level weeks. The desire of Maemela and his friends meant they were still putting in plenty of effort, which took up time and money from their own pockets.
However, things changed for them in 2018. With the wheel already set in motion, it did not take too much of convincing for CSA to officially grant them Hub status.
Today they have around 120 registered players on their books, most of them coming from eight schools – four primary and four secondary – around them, although some come from other schools further away too.
“Some of the biggest challenges we have are getting our coaches to all the schools,” Maemela explains. “We try to cover as many schools as we can, but it is not always possible. The NYS (National Youth System) programme of government has helped us spread our wings a bit, but we in the rural schools still lack specialist coaches like some of the urban schools have.”
At the Hub itself, Maemela has one full-time assistant in Thuto Sechogela. Both are CSA Level 2 accredited coaches, together with volunteers Dr Mpho Motsepa and Omphile Maemela. Another volunteer is Gregory Meza, a former semi-pro cricketer.
As for the head coach’s love for the game, it dates back to his own primary school days when he too played Mini-Cricket. However, once the 36-year-old outgrew those early years, there was no one to really drive cricket in the area when they got to secondary school.
“We never really had teachers who were into cricket, so there was no opportunity for us,” Maemela added. “There were a few of us friends from different schools who would organise social games and play whenever we could. We had no coaches or anyone to guide us. We learnt from Mini-Cricket and then picked things up further from watching games on TV. That was it.”
Today he is grateful for the opportunities that children in his communities have been afforded via the Hubs programme.
“All these players being recognised and called up to different higher-level teams is something that would never had happened if the Hub system was not there,” Maemela concluded. “So this system is working well and providing opportunities to so many kids all over the country.
“The story we always tell is the one about Ontlametse Kesiamang. Even before we became a Hub, he was offered a bursary to go to a focus school in Kimberley. That opened so many doors for him and this is what the pipeline is all about: giving chances to those who may not have had them in the past.”
Kesiamang was 14 at the time. He has since gone on to attend two CSA Talent Acceleration Programme (TAP) camps, represent Northern Cape at most age levels and will be going to the flagship U19 Khaya Majola Week again this year.
Last year, KEW Hub girl, Boitumelo Seikaneng, captained the NC U16 team. They currently have two girls that are part of the senior provincial women's squad for 2022/23 – Mathapelo Ntsayagae and Nombuso Makatong, incredibly aged 14 and 16 respectively.