In her pursuit of seeing young township tennis players succeed in the sport she loves, leading local match official Mpho Makhoba says she spends 90% of her hard-earned money paving the way for them.
Mpho Makhoba, 38, who does not have children of her own, has made it her lifelong mission to uplift kids from townships through sport.
“What I like the most is getting down to the ground and building our juniors because when I was a junior, there weren’t so many opportunities within tennis for us to grow,” she said.
“My biggest dream is to see some of the kids I’m coaching actually progress and take officiating seriously. I would like to see kids from the townships taking any sport, not just tennis and make a difference in their lives.”
Makhoba, from Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, is the first female official to receive an international qualification under the joint certification programme run by the International Tennis Federation incorporating the Association of Tennis Professionals and Women’s Tennis Association.
She is also only the fourth South African woman to achieve an international Chief of Umpires qualification.
She said despite not earning a lot of money, she gets satisfaction from seeing others succeed in life.
Makhoba, who does not own a car, said she laughs when people tell her she needs to save money and get herself some wheels.
“I don’t earn that much but knowing that I’m making a difference in someone’s life makes me sleep better. I know I don’t have kids of my own but I have tons of children that I’m taking care of.
“I’m at peace when I see someone else progress in life. When I save [money], I save to make sure someone goes to a tournament, or that someone who doesn’t have parents has food on the table,” she said.
Her love for the sport started when she was 14 years old. She started playing and within a year she won her first trophy. She laughs as she explains that her family thought she was joking when she turned her back on softball and started playing tennis.
They thought it was a passing phase as everyone in the family played softball.
“I still remember their reaction when I won my first tournament. I won the open section and I remember my sister asking, ‘Who did you steal that trophy from?’ I said I didn’t steal it, it’s my trophy,’ and she said to me, ‘There is no way you can tell us you won because you just started playing a couple of weeks ago’.”
She recalls that her disbelieving family actually called her coach to verify her story.
“When I told them I was playing a tournament and I was in the final they still did not want to believe me. I said, ‘Come and watch me,’ and they said, ‘You started playing a couple of weeks ago and you’re in the final?’
“My coach came and told them it’s for real and from then they started supporting me. My sister, brother and mom were all there for me. They have been a pillar of strength. When I go to tournaments they come and watch me performing my duties,” she said.
Having had her family not take her seriously in the sport when she started, she is now appealing to parents in the townships she is involved in to be supportive of their children despite not having finances.
“Please support your kids. I don’t care if they don’t have money. I will take care of that. Just support them and tell them they can achieve anything. Never talk down on them.”