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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Basketball academy aims to support Soweto youth

Monwabisi Dlamini, known as Coach Mo to his players, co-founded the Soweto Basketball Academy as a way to improve school performance and attendance through the sport of basketball. PHOTO: Sarah Harwick ’21

Soweto, South Africa — On a cool winter afternoon in  the Jabavu section of Soweto, the famous township southwest of Johannesburg, the air is filled with the sound of basketballs pounding against the multicolored surface of two open-air courts. Little kids and big kids run back and forth, defending, driving to the hoop and yelling for the ball. 

The Soweto Basketball Academy was created in 2013 by Monwabisi Dlamini and Jacob Tsiane in the Jabavu section of Soweto. PHOTO: Sarah Harwick ’21

Masonwabe Mene, who attends nearby Morris Isaacson High School, is a 14-year-old point guard for the Soweto Basketball Academy and one of over 200 players between the ages of 8 and 18 who shows up at the academy every day after school to compete and play basketball with friends. 

Masonwabe Mene, a 14-year-old point guard, attempts a shot at the Soweto Basketball Academy, where he said he has learned to balance school work with practices and games. PHOTO: Sarah Harwick ’21

“I started playing basketball because I wanted to avoid staying in the township and doing bad [things],” Mene said. “This program grows the community. We start working together, and we try to fix it by showing [younger] children a good example. And Coach helps with what anyone may be facing at home or at school.”

Coach Mo — Monwabisi Dlamini — the Soweto Basketball Academy’s co-founder said the organization aims to improve both school performance and school attendance through the sport of basketball.

“We have kids who are now doing great things both at school and on the court,”  Dlamini said. “They’ve come so far. There’s a lot of positivity happening, getting kids here and away from the streets.”

Dlamini initiated the Soweto Basketball Academy in 2013. Jacob Tsiane, Dlamini’s co-founder, joined a year later in 2014. In the six years of the academy’s existence, it has grown from three kids and one basketball to over 350 kids playing on five different Jr. NBA teams. 

The colorful courts were donated by the U.S.-based Carmelo Anthony Foundation in 2018 and have become a popular after-school place for elementary and high school students from the surrounding area. 

The academy adopted the Philadelphia 76ers as its designated NBA organization, something every Jr. NBA team is required to do. Dlamini said the inspiration for adopting the 76ers comes from the historic student uprisings in June 1976 in South Africa. Tens of thousands of students across the country protested against the apartheid government’s attempt to impose the Afrikaans language as a medium of instruction in schools in black townships. 

”It’s something that links with who we are,” Dlamini said.  

Dlamini and Tsiane were both born in Soweto, never playing or following basketball until the academy began. After watching a series of Youtube basketball tutorial videos, the two felt ready to move forward. 

They saw basketball as a way to give kids opportunities outside of traditional extracurricular activities. Basketball is not as popular a sport in South Africa as it is in the United States.

“All we have is soccer,” Dlamini said. “If you don’t play soccer, then you find yourself in the streets doing whatever else you can. [Basketball] was more like a calling. It’s a medium that we had to use to implement change in our community.”

Prior to 2013, the academy’s court space was a hangout spot for people using drugs and alcohol. Dlamini hired a contractor to clean the space in 2014. Tsiane worked as a part of the renovation and cleanup crew. When the job was done, he learned more about the academy’s mission, then decided to stay for the long haul. 

“I saw [the kids] come here every day with the limited resources that we have,” Tsiane said. “I believed that we could develop and create future basketball stars. The way they were showing love for the game, I thought to myself, ‘I’ll dedicate time because I believe in it so much.”

Mene wants to be a future start in the NBA. Imitating his favorite player, Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry, Mene calls plays and runs the court as a floor general.

“I want to help my teammates go further and not stay in the township,” Mene said. “I want to grow the community, play basketball in the United States and represent South Africa.”

Mene’s goal of playing in the NBA falls into place with the academy’s overarching vision. Over the next 10 years, Dlamini said he plans to get a minimum of two boys and girls into the NBA and WNBA respectively. 

“We’ve done a lot, but our vision is so much bigger,” Dlamini said. “We’re trying our best to  make sure we identify talent as young as possible so that we can build onto that. What we have power over is making sure that our kids are as good as any other kid that wants to play in the NBA.”

Khanyisile Shange, a 16-year- old academy player who attends the German International School in Johannesburg and plans on attending university to study politics, said she agrees there is much more to the academy than basketball.

“[Basketball] teaches you more than just playing with a team but also working with the team as a person,” Shange said.  “It’s about discipline, being able to share with people and working together.”

Sixteen-year-old Khanyisile Shange said basketball has taught her how to play as part of a team. PHOTO: Sarah Harwick ’21

But the  academy’s goal to use basketball as an outlet to improve the kids’ school performance remains its primary objective.

This year, the academy partnered with Diakonia Aid Ministry (DAM), an after-school program, to enhance its extracurricular school work assistance program. As a result, the students’ mid-year test results improved by an average of 20%, according to Dlamini 

To Tsiane, these type of academic results are what’s important for the kids and their future. 

“When they come here, it helps them work on their schoolwork,” Tsiane said. “That’s what I care about most. I can see the improvement, I can see that these kids will have a bright future. It doesn’t just have to be about them becoming big basketball stars.”

Thabang Ndlovu, a 14-year-old academy player who attends University of Johannesburg Metropolitan Academy, said the Soweto Basketball Academy has shown him a new path.

“Every person here is like family to me,” Ndlovu said. “The unconditional love that they give to me, it’s something that I can’t explain. Basketball has given me many chances and opportunities in life. It has helped and inspired many of us in the community.”  

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    Coach Monwabisi DlaminiJul 15, 2019 at 9:30 am

    We are humbled by your article, Nick. sometimes reading about yourself you reflect on and appreciate your lifes journey.
    keep up the great work