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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'There are promises but nothing in writing' - Uncertain future for Vorentoe as sponsor withdraws

With scores of youth, junior and senior SA Champions having called the school home, Hoërskool Vorentoe is one of South Africa's most successful centres of athletic development. Olympian Lebo Phalula and her sister Lebogang, Mapaseka Makhanya who represent the country at the World Championships and 3000m steeplechaser Tumisang Monnatlala who also donned the green and gold at the highest level are all alumni of the Johannesburg-based high school.

Vorentoe Academy future champion achieved 11 medals at the ASA U18 and U20 Championships earlier this year. Dressed here in their provincial Central Gauteng Athletics (CGA) colours Bayanda Walaza won gold in the Boys U17 200m (21.10) and silver in the 100m (10.63); Polite Mbokane won gold - 1500m Steeplechase GU15 5:08.83min; Naledi Makgatha won gold - 1500m GU19 4:27.21; Kgopotso Shokane took bronze - 3000m Steeplechase GU19 11:32.52; gold for Yamkela Shosha- 10km Walk BU17 51:24min; Gold for Oratile Masigo - 2000m Steeplechase BU17 5:57.55; Bronze for Neo Mothae -2000m Steeplechase BU17 6:10.34. Photo Credit: CGA Media.

"Way back in 2000 we became a multi-racial school. It started with kids from Soweto that trained here and couldn't go home afterwards because they didn't have transport," said former principal Hans Saestad. "The kids used to get home at 8pm or 9pm then we started accommodating them here at school. It was very basic, but the whole thing developed from there. Then ten years later somebody came in and said can we sponsor you and improve your facilities. The Department of Sports and Recreation, Murray and Roberts, KPMG - they all came in and this thing really boomed into one of the better academies in South Africa."

Initially catering mostly to talented youngsters from Soweto, the athletics programme at Vorentoe has grown to include a number of future champions who attend the school on athletics bursaries after being scouted in the townships and rural areas as far as Limpopo. Those opportunities for self development through running are now under threat after Murray and Roberts announced earlier this year, that their sponsorship of the running club (which includes the Vorentoe Academy) would be coming to an end in 2023.

Saestad poses with his former students and top runners Nolene Conrad and Lebo Phalula. Conrad is the second fastest South African female 3000m steeplechase athlete of all time, while Phalula because the first black South African woman to represent the country in the marathon at Rio 2016. Photo Credit: Nolene Conrad.

"We are very grateful to Murray and Roberts and the help they have given us for the last five years. At the moment if I say we have something else, then I'm lying. We have absolutely no way forward for next year. There are many promises but we don't have anything in writing. We are getting desperate to have someone come on board because if we don't have money to run the hostel then the only solution is that they must go back home to their previous schools or find new schools. That's the worst case scenario," explained Saestad.

Although he retired from his position principal in 2020, the man who also coached multiple SA Champions and SA 3000m steeplechase record holder Tebogo Masehla remains involved with the academy as it's head coach. And because of the academy runners live in the boarding house on campus which is funded by the Murray and Roberts sponsorship, Saestad's main concern is to give the learners and their parents a clear picture so they can plan for 2024.

The six Vorries that made the SA Team that took part in the 2023 CAA U18 and U20 Championships in Zambia pose with the school principal, SA middle distance legends Tebogo Masehla and Rene Kalmer as well as Central Gauteng Athletics (CGA) General Manager Mandla Radebe. Photo Credit: MWMedia.

"Seven of the learners will be in Grade 12 next year and you can't wait until January before you put them into a new school. But still if somebody comes on board we have everything in place, so we can just continue where we left off. If we don't get a single sponsor, people that wants to make a contribution can do so because it all adds up at the end of the day. Honestly at the end of the day I can't think about schools athletics, or schools cross country without Vorentoe."

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