JOHANNESBURG – Surrounded by poverty, Proteas women's off-spinner Raisibe Ntozakhe knows all about the difficulties of trying to make it as a professional cricketer.
The 22-year-old spent most of her life in Alexandra, battling to realise her dream.
“Financially it was really tough,” says Ntozakhe. “I’d have to hustle for money to go and play a cricket match on the weekend.
“Sometimes, there would be no money for me to go on tour and I'd have to rely on donations.
“Cricket wasn't really huge in the townships, especially among girls, and so I had no woman to guide or mentor me to help me achieve my dream of becoming a professional cricketer.”
Today, Ntozakhe is the only black cricketer from a township to represent a Proteas cricket team.
So, it's hardly surprising that when Queens High School, Cricket South Africa and the Gauteng Cricket Board approached her to help coach and mentor young black female cricketers from underprivileged backgrounds, she jumped at the chance.
This year, Queens High School together with CSA and the GCB collaborated to start the development programme for young black female cricketers from historically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Cricket SA and the GCB identified 14 talented black female cricketers from townships in Gauteng such as Alex, Soweto and Orange Farm.
The girls, aged 12 to 14, were then relocated to Queens High School, where they live permanently at the school's hostel.
They receive their education at Queens High and primary school and do their cricket training at the school under the stewardship of Ntozakhe as well as Queens cricket coach Mike Patrick, GCB youth cricket coach Bongani Ntini, Kurt Human, the youth and schools administrator at the GCB, and Niels Momberg, the youth manager at CSA.
Their education and hostel fees are funded and the programme is set to run for five years.
While the development programme for girls only kicked off this month, Queens, together with CSA and the GCB, has been running a development programme for talented black male cricketers from underprivileged backgrounds for the past three years.
It now has 60 children, including the 14 girls who started this year, on its books.
Even with her commitments to the Proteas women team and her provincial cricket team, Ntozakhe has agreed to stay permanently at the hostel with the girls from Monday to Friday to support them.
“My biggest passion in life is cricket, and so when I heard about the programme I was immediately excited.
“These girls have gone through the same struggles as I went through, growing up. I would have loved to have had a mentor to guide me, and so I immediately agreed to help out.
“I remember having to rush off to cricket practice straight after school. I had no transport and so I'd have to walk for miles to get to the ground.
“Sometimes, I wouldn't be able to get all my homework done because I'd be so tired from school and cricket practice.
“Now these girls are at full advantage living in a hostel, where they have cricket facilities and are able to play their games inside the school.”
Staying at the school means she can help the girls on and off the field. “I can mentor and help them improve their game on the field, and also help them off the field with any other issues they have.
“I'm confident that if they put in the hard work and they remain determined that they can represent the Proteas one day, just like I have done.”
Patrick, the school's head cricket coach and one of the main figures behind the programme, is thrilled.
“We started this development programme three years ago with boys and it has been working outstandingly well. We thought, why can’t we use the same blueprint for a girls' team?
“These girls have had it tough. Before they joined the development programme, they were waking up as early as 4am to get ready for a cricket game.
“They would have no food in their tummies going to the game and would only eat at lunch time.
“Taxi fares were a financial burden and they would only get home late at night after a cricket game. So we are really glad we are able to help them and make their lives easier.
“These are talented girls who don't have as many opportunities as other children who have the financial backing and support.”
Patrick adds that the programme also aims to develop the youngsters into future leaders.
“We pay just as much attention to schoolwork as we do cricket practice. The idea was to give these children a wonderful opportunity to achieve all their dreams and goals whether it was in cricket or not.”
Twelve-year-old Karabo Rakgomo is delighted to be working with Ntozakhe. “Having a mentor like Raisibe is a dream come true. I never ever imagined I'd be given the chance to be coached by a Proteas player, so it's really awesome.”
While Rakgomo is undecided about her future, she hopes she is good enough to become a professional cricketer one day.
GCB youth coach Ntini is thrilled to be part of the programme. “It will help level the playing field,” he says.