Africa netball giants meet in South Africa
The tournament, which features Malawi, Botswana, Zambia and host South Africa, starts at Heartfelt Arena in Pretoria tonight, with Saturday’s finalists being determined after three days of round robins.
Having come off a series win over Northern Ireland last month, Kotze is confident they are ready to continue their winning ways as they target a breakthrough into the world’s top-four.
“We had a fantastic luxury because I had the team for a whole week during which we could actually work in specialised areas and combinations,” said Kotze.
“I have never had this opportunity and it really helped a lot. Each player knows exactly what is expected in each of their positions and each move and all aspects of the game. I think the South African team is ready and I know they are ready for this challenge.”
They will have their work cut out for them in the form of the Malawians, ranked fifth in the world rankings, one spot ahead of SA.
Griffin Saenda, who has been in camp for 10 days since being invited to the tournament, is expecting a wonderful showcase of netball talent from his side.
“Expect a top display from our team, which includes young players who have teamed up with the seniors. We know it is a challenge and
we are taking nothing for granted,” said Saenda.
And while the rivalry between Africa’s powerhouses may be well documented, there is danger lurking as Botswana – ranked 16th – aim to upset the apple cart.
“We are prepared and ready to improve our standards and ranking,” said Motlhokwa Motsumi, the coach. “But we are out to beat South Africa. That is why we are here.”
As the excitement mounts during a week in which all matches are scheduled to be broadcast live, there is more good news for the future of netball not only in South Africa, but for Africa as a whole.
Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula announced the sport will go professional next year.
“Our plans for developing netball are big. This Diamond Challenge is the centrepiece of this development. Next year in April we are going professional,” Mbalula said. “No player will be playing netball for free or part-time. Two million players will be on the pay roll.
“Netball will be played week in, week out. Netball will be faster, greater and more beautiful.”
Mbalula said he believed this would be the start of greater things. He called on investors to invest in the country and, in doing so, help fight poverty and unemployment.
“Everyone who looks down on netball, their minds and hearts will change this weekend,” said Mbalula, referring to the tournament he helped initiate. “Netball is the premier No 1 sport of women in South Africa, so let’s go!”
Mimi Mthethwa, the president of SA Netball, said it was important for Africa to be part of the growth in numbers, as the International Federation of Netball Association sought to have netball introduced as an Olympic sport.