THIS YEAR, a 15-year-old girl named Sandra Tekane has made history of sorts in North West cricket by being selected for the u-16 provincial (state) women's cricket squad.
Tekane is black, she is there purely on merit (as opposed to the quota system that is creating tense ripples in South African cricket) and she was introduced to cricket barely a year ago.
Tekane is the first major success of a development programme that encourages young black women from rural areas, the farmlands and informal settlements in the North West province to improve their lives through cricket.
Even listening to Louise Vorster, former president of South African Women's Cricket Association and currently, Director of the Women's Cricket Academy at the Potchefstroom-based North West Cricket Union, is fascinating. "You have to understand that where these young women come from, they have nothing," says Vorster. "They have nothing, not even opportunity. Cricket gives them a chance to better their lives. It gives them a sense of belonging to a group, of identifying with it, brings discipline and confidence and instills a self-esteem and self-belief. Most importantly, it gives them hope of a better future."
Last year, after the Women's World Cup, in May, 2005, the North West Cricket started an outreach programme in conjunction with the local government to help out black girls u-15. First, they spent time identifying 12 schools in the interiors and then, picked 30 kids from each school to teach them cricket, based on likely aptitude and interest levels.
They also identified a teacher from each school and took them away for a weekend to update them on basic coaching methodology.
"This process took two months," says Vorster, who was the only white face involved in the whole process. The programme is very important given the backdrop that otherwise, many of these children will have no access to a better life.
Playing sport also will keep them away from very common problems here like early marriages and teenage pregnancies, among other worse horrors.
Earlier this year, Potchefstroom hosted a rural tournament over four days, culminating on their Women's Day, August 9, for 156 of these girls, divided into 12 teams.
Tekane incidentally, was player of the tournament here. Over these four days, while six teams would battle it out in 25-over games, players from the other six teams would interact with six girls (four black and two white) from the NWC Academy. They would talk about cricket, life and opportunity, even while learning more about the game's skills.
In fact, the story of the girls from the academy (state players included) is intriguing. Their passion for the game is so great that NWC has bought a couple of combis (big vans) to fetch them daily from the black township of Ikageng outside Potch for training and nets.
"It is wonderful to watch them all, black and white," says Vorster, a former player herself, who represented women's cricket on South African cricket's transformation committee for three years when the apartheid regime ended. "Apartheid, you know, is a swear word, " she says. "It caused such terrible problems and we have to right those wrongs and give opportunity as much as possible."
Cricket, incidentally, in South Africa, is not football, beloved of the masses. It has largely been the game of the whites or the socio-economically privileged. In many rural areas, it is unheard of. So reaching out will not be easy.
But as we drove out of Potch towards Jo’burg, we passed a huge field dotted with used and new tires. Behind them, a few young boys and wonderfully, a very young girl, were playing what looked like some sort of cricket, with what seemed a makeshift bat and ball.
It was a lovely final memory of Potch and an attempt to forge a spirit.