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Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 12:15 GMT
Bridging South Africa's golf gap
A golfer at Thembisa golf club
The next generation is watching

There are no manicured fairways in Thembisa township, and no smooth greens.

I think we have changed the whole concept of golf being a white man's sport

Moses Masina
Thembisa's golfers have to step over broken bottles and paper bags, and sometimes they lose their balls in a water-filled ditch, but that does not stop them.

Unpromising surroundings maybe, but they do not hold anyone back.

Golf has flourished in this tough East Rand township for more than 30 years.

'Trespassers'

Thembisa's golfers gather to practise every weekend on a scrap of council land.

"Strictly speaking, we're trespassers!" says one member.

There are about 60 members. There is no club house, so club meetings are held under a tree.

Moses Masina, the club chairman, is determined to prove that golf is no longer a sport exclusive to the wealthy white suburbs.

A golfer at Thembisa golf club
A successor for Tiger Woods?

"It used to be, but not lately, because now everybody's got a choice, to choose which sport to play. I think we have changed the whole concept of golf being a white man's sport."

And it is not just Thembisa's men who are out to disprove long-held prejudices.

On any weekend, there also several women out practising.

Sally Tabea took up the game late, but dreams of making a career in golf.

"I would like to be maybe one of the Thembisa lady professionals, and now that my baby has grown up I have more time to practise, so I hope I can make it."

Promising teenagers

The experienced golfers at Thembisa spend a lot of time passing on the rudiments of the game to young members, and there is now a promising crop of teenagers.

"They are interested and motivated," says Mr Masina, "but de-motivated at the very same time because they don't get to watch golf. There isn't much golf on television in South Africa, and that is a demoralising factor for these kids and for us as players".

So is there a young Tiger Woods coming through the ranks in Thembisa? Yes, according to Mr Masina.

"Definitely, there is. His name is Stuart. He's good, he's good. I just hope that the world can see him."

A golfer at Thembisa golf club
Trading unemployment for sport

Well, with a recommendation like that, we had to go and meet Stuart Mabena for ourselves.

He is 16 years old and lives with his grandparents in a typical, modest Thembisa house, with electricity and water, but precious little space.

He relies on the goodwill of friends to buy his golf equipment, but there is no doubting his dedication.

"I like golf. I want to be a great golfer," he says quietly.

Stuart has a long journey ahead of him if he is to make it in the competitive world of professional golf.

New opportunities

He is growing up in an unforgiving township, where many teenagers do lose their way.

His friends are grappling with unemployment and crime, but at least Stuart knows he could have a way out.

We were lucky enough to follow Stuart, and the other Thembisa golfers, for a tournament at a smart course in the white suburbs.

It felt like another world. Here, the greens and fairways are beautifully maintained.

Not so long ago, black people would have been excluded from many such clubs; today, it is still an expensive day out, but at least the Thembisa players have the chance to practise, and improve, on the best courses.

Ford Radebe, one of a handful of professional golfers who belong to the Thembisa club, explains the importance of this.

"In the township we don't have such facilities: the greens, they don't look like this; the club house is not like this; and the place is too small."

For Stuart it is a day of learning in a new environment.

Is he really the next Tiger Woods? Maybe, maybe not, but at least golf will bring him pleasure, relaxation and self-respect for many years to come.

Just as it already does for all the other players from Thembisa, men from the townships who walk proudly on the fairways.

See also:

14 Aug 98 | Middle East
28 Mar 01 | Africa
23 Nov 00 | Africa
23 Feb 01 | Scotland
03 Jan 01 | Scotland
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