Bongi Nhleko is a woman making a difference in her community. Nhleko runs the Soweto Touch Organisation, is the co-ordinator for Youth Empowerment through Sport (YES) and works closely with the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. Nhleko says it has been quite a journey: ‘Being part of Laureus has been a privilege and an honour and the opportunity of a lifetime when one thought these opportunities were not possible. I’ve been part of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation with my own organisation, called the Soweto Touch Organisation. I had no funding to go back to school after matriculating in 2008.’
Nhleko says instead of sitting around doing nothing she should go and help the community because there’s a lack of self-confidence and so many life skills. She says: ‘The behaviour of our community wasn’t something that was pleasant in my eyes and I wanted to change that so I started the organisation in 2009 and in 2012 I had the opportunity to go to England and coach rugby at Muirfield High School and that was just an eye opener for me because I never thought it was possible to get to England. I was just doing this to change the perspective in our community and then I became the Youth Empowerment through Sports co-ordinator.’
She has been part of the YES programme since 2011 and she says it is still going strong. Nhleko pushes other leaders to fulfill their dreams and live it. The Soweto resident says: ‘This year I was selected as the Lions Under-16 manager for the girls. We’re trying to push the girls to get involved in a lot of sporting codes because I’ve realised there’s a lot of teenage pregnancies and peer pressure and they just get into that vibe where they don’t feel responsible for themselves and their reality is they’re dependent on men and we want to change that also.’
Nhleko is an unsung heroine and while on this National Women’s Day you are likely to read stories about current stars like Caroline Wostmann, Caster Semenya, Bridgitte Hartley or past icons like Penny Heyns and Natalie Du Toit, the truth is that at grassroots level it is people like Nhleko who are making massive differences. She herself is not without an idol.
Nhleko says: ‘Natalie Du Toit is such an inspiration to me. The first time I met her I couldn’t believe it because you know, when you see the legends playing you don’t know them inside. When she shared her story and how she got this far, it was something that I wanted to push.’ Nhleko says she still has to pinch herself sometimes to realise that she and Du Toit have become friends: ‘I take her as my mentor and someone who also guides me through life. She tells me to never give up because this is something that we are talented in.’
Bongi still lives in Meadowlands today and says there is a great need for more Du Toits and Semenyas to inspire young girls out there: ‘We need those women out there. We need heroines and just continue with greatness. Men are carrying it all the time. It’s the Springboks, it’s Bafana Bafana but we need to get it out there that Banyana Banyana is there, that Natalie Du Toit is there. I’m not out there but I know what I’m doing is creating more women to go out there and play.’ Nhleko and her youngsters train every Sunday from 14:30-16:00 at Meadowlands High School.