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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'Cross Country is fundamental' - 50 Nkangala AA athletes to represent AMPU at National Champs

When Emmanuel Mabaso ascended to the stage to accept the Team of The Year Award at the Mpumalanga Sports Awards on the 9th of September, 2023 it was a bitter sweet moment for him. Although he was proud of to have given the youngsters of Mhluzi in Middelburg quality sporting opportunities through the Nkangala Athletic Academy which he founded, he was disappointed that even after more than a decade of success, the club still struggles to attract funding.

Nkangala Athletic Academy juniors pose for a photo after a cross country meet. Photo Credit: Supplied.

"Thank you to the Mpumalanga Sports Awards for recognizing us because it's long overdue. We've been developing athletes in Mpumalanga without any funding," he said during his acceptance speech. "261 athletes has been part of Nkangala Athletic Academy since 2010. So this award highlights the progress made since 2010 by those from an overlooked township development team competing against the well established professional teams in Mpumalanga. It is a huge statement."

That he has been nicknamed Shaper by those in the athletic community is testament to his abilities as a coach and mentor. When the 42-year old started the athletics development initiative back in 2010 even he would not have dreamed that it would go on to be this impactful. Mabaso has produced athletes such as Thobile and Thulisile Amon who are now based at New Mexico State University in the United States, 61-minute half marathoner Sibusio Kubheka who is now a professional athlete with the Xcel Running Club and two-time SA 1500m Champion Dumisani Hlaselo who represented South Africa at the World Championships. Mabaso says it's amazing what can be achieved with a clear objective.

50 NAA runners are on their way to Gqeberha for the SA Cross Country Championships on 16 September. Photo Credit: Emmanuel Mabaso.

"I started the club in order to give the township community access to athletics and extend our branches to other Mpumalanga townships. It takes a good administrator to make a team. Then you also need a good coach to identify and develop talent and athletes who can take the team to the top. We believe that cross country is a fundamental for development. It builds strength, courage and it accommodates all age groups and body sizes. It also keeps most of our young athletes busy for a longer period than track," he explained.

Yet despite this success the man who works Solar Mining Services in Middelburg finds that he must beg, borrow and perpetually dig into his pocket in order to keep the project going. For example on Saturday 16 September, 50 athletes from the Nkangala Athletic Academy will represent Athletics Mpumalanga (AMPU) at the Athletics South Africa Cross Country Championships across various age groups, and Mabaso was forced to use social media to raise roughly R50 000 in order to pay for his athletes to travel to Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape to compete. With this award now in the bag and a 13-year track record in developing top runners Shaper hopes that 2023 will be the last time that he has to fundraise in order to send his athletes to the national cross country championships.

Mabaso (left) poses with his family after winning The Team of The Year Award at the Mpumalanga Sports Awards. Photo Credit: Emmanuel Mabaso.

"We couldn't get a sponsor, so we used the donations received from my facebook friends and parents contributions. The likes of Bongani Chris, Bongani Mthimunye, Babu Bongani Mnguni, Fortune Howard, Obadia Tshoba, Thobile Amon, Thulisile Amon, Legasa Tlometsane, Mafane Godfrey Taba, Dudu Madonsela and 3 private individuals donated. That made about half of what needed and the province (AMPU) was so kind to help us with the rest. We managed to win 3 medals last year, so we are aiming to keep doing well. Winning Team of the Year is a milestone achievement which I hope and pray it will open funders hearts and pockets and look at Nkangala Athletic Academy as a professional development team."

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