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A snapshot of our ‘Disruptors’ issue cover story, with Bongi Msomi

Bongi Msomi’s name is synonymous with sheer excellence, one would never guess that her career started out as an unexpected windfall. As a young girl, living in Hammarsdale, KZN, sports wasn’t on her radar. Considering she hadn’t set foot inside a netball court until she was discovered by chance at the age of 16, her success was written in the stars. “I only started playing netball in 2004 when I was in grade 11 after I went to watch my friends training and they were a player short for a match. One of them asked the coach to let me fill in.

The coach, Sithembiso Mncwabe, was one of my high school teachers and was not keen since he saw me as one of the naughty kids,” she says. He however, gave her a chance to play. “I understood the rules a bit because I used to watch them train. From then on he told me to attend training sessions. I did not like the idea because I was shy and only starting to play at 16, so I knew I wasn’t going to be good enough in terms of skill, fitness and understanding the game at the level needed since our school was really good. But back then, if teachers told you to be involved in a sport or cultural activity, you would not think of opposing them,” Bongi adds. In retrospect, she says she owes her success to her coach for believing in her, “he gave me extra sessions to catch up and convinced me to keep fit and try to enjoy training because if I got that right, I would learn quickly, enjoy being coached and enjoy playing. He was right!”

A world of possibilities opened up for Bongi; she started playing at district level (Ethekwini and Umgungundlovu), provincial level (KZN), national level (Spar Proteas) and at international level (Surrey Storm, Wasps Netball and Adelaide Thunderbirds in England and Australia). “I am blessed to have experienced all levels of netball. It still feels like a dream, and I am forever grateful to God,” she says.

Photography by Franco Kellerman

So what does it mean to her to be Captain of the National Netball Team? “It’s an absolute honour! I never dreamt of playing the sport, let alone leading the national side. When it came to my attention that I would be named Captain of the Spar Proteas, I was scared and panicked. I questioned my leadership capabilities and was not sure if I was ready for all that would come with it. But it’s such a massive blessing that keeps building you as a person for the better,” Bongi says.

An honour of this magnitude not only speaks to her skills but her leadership skills, too. Cognizant of this, she says, “I am really pleased that I was offered this opportunity and took it with both hands. Looking back, I have grown to lead in my own way and be confident in my leadership qualities. These qualities help me in my life in general; I lead myself every single day and am pretty pleased with where I am.”

Her journey has not been without challenges however, “when you’re still growing in the sport, there are stumbling blocks like not having enough funds to pay the fees required to play national championships or to buy shoes or a kit, and extra money to spend when travelling,” says Bongi.

Photography by Franco Kellerman

Noting that she was lucky to have had a coach like Sithembiso Mncwabe who did all he could to ensure that she didn’t miss any opportunities. “I was with the SA under 21 squad around that time and starting to experience the beautiful (but scary) part of being an athlete. I was travelling by plane, meeting new people, staying at was overwhelming. No one prepares you for all of that, not to mention all the English you speak at national camps (she chuckles).”

Admitting that playing at a high level comes with its own set of challenges and expectations. “This has never been much of an issue for me because I am blessed with an understanding that in a team sport, especially because I am a leader, success lies both in my achievements, and the achievements of everyone on the team,” she affirms.

Her winning attitude coupled with her focus and determination attracted the attention of PUMA - the fastest sports brand in the world. And as a game-changer, she says she resonates with the PUMA values, ‘Faster Forever!’

Expanding on her approach to brand alignment, she says a lot of thought goes into it; “what the brand is about, its initiatives, and will to empower others. I also consider the brand’s openness in supporting me and my personal brand.” As fate would have it, PUMA ticked all the boxes, “they approached me and I fell in love with the brand. I’ve never had this type of support. PUMA opened doors for me when it came to personal sponsorships and ambassadorship. They support my projects as well and the working relationship has been great from day one,” she adds.

As the brand ambassador, Bongi plays in PUMA Solarstrike footwear, so how do they compliment her game plan? “Solarstrike is both a runner and a court shoe, which means it is light but provides stability. Great for changing direction at speed.” Still on the topic of drip, with the Women’s World Cup coming up, I’m curious about her take on the new national team kit, “the World Cup kit is amazing! Besides being beautiful, the concept behind the design and the blend of colours is incredible!

There is nothing as fulfilling and empowering as wearing something that has a deeper meaning than just the brand and the colours. The shapes and colours drawn from our Coat of Arms and national flag lends the Spar Proteas ‘greater than me’ mantra even more sense. You put the kit on, it cannot be only for yourself! What a reminder! What a kit!” Bongi says.

Being kitted for success is just one aspect of it. Considering that this is a big moment for the national team, what does it mean to her to be representing SA in the World Cup here at home?“It will mean more than all the other World Cups I’ve participated in. It marks a special place in history for netball in our country and Africa. Not many get such opportunities! I am blessed and will forever be grateful.” Visibly excited, she adds that this World Cup is about going through the moment. “There are so many things going on and one cannot ose focus. It is going to be here, and I am going all out. Starting from the point of making the team,” she says.

As a women’s sports pioneer, Bongi plays an important role in encouraging women to take up space in the sports fraternity. Her take on the tone of the conversation around women in sport in 2023 is that “there’s a powerful message around supporting women from all sporting fraternities. I love the ‘It’s 2023 and we’re Here for Her’ campaign by SuperSport. It is massive to see so much advocating for greater recognition of women in sport!”

Photography by Franco Kellerman

Noting that women in sport have never had it easy, she asserts “they work super hard to mostly get half of what they deserve. They have a desire to achieve whatever they set their minds to, despite the obstacles they face.” She a rms that women know what it means to work super hard, and they get things done through passion, commitment, dedication and the will to empower others. “Looking at women in sport in general, they are achieving so much despite the stereotypes and the status quo. Imagine how great women would be if they could have all the necessary support? Women in sport are the best advocates for future generations so it would be great to see them given the space to be ambassadors in their respective roles,” she says.

Read the full cover story in our June/July ‘Disruptor’ issue at the link here or pick up a physical copy in stores from Monday 12 June 2023.

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