The Sunday Mail
SITHULILE Mlotshwa’s netball career certainly qualifies as one of Zimbabwe’s sports mysteries.
On one hand, she is a Gems’ icon who captained Zimbabwe to a runners-up finish at the 1995 All-Africa Games (now the African Games).
She has certainly clocked in the miles and has the distinction of being the first Zimbabwean to coach a foreign national team and ply her trade in an elite league.
Mlotshwa is currently on the books of Botswana netball outfit Notwane, a team she played for and now coaches. She is a certified technical official, having served at the 2017 Under-21 Netball World Youth Cup, and was recently appointed as a development officer.
However, for all her accomplishments, accolades, and years of service, the name Mlotshwa is not readily recognisable outside local netball. It is a fact the netball icon seems at peace with.
“It has been a long and tough journey getting this far. Given the choice, I wouldn’t change a thing and I have no regrets.” My netball life is always busy; if am not coaching, I am officiating.” There is so much to learn from her hard work and sheer determination. Her netball journey began in 1981 at Lotshe Primary School, when she accidentally ended up on the netball court. It was to be the beginning of a never-ending love story with the sport. In a short space of time, she rose from being a fringe player to becoming one of the most trusted players at the school.
It is during her secondary school days at Sobukazi that she cracked into professional netball through the Nguboyenja-based Chopper, which was later named Highlanders Netball Club.
“Back then, we simply played for the love of the game; sponsorship was a huge challenge and we earned very little. Sometimes, we didn’t get anything in terms of money, but we remained disciplined,” she said.
“We would use our own funds just to go and play, and we never gave up. All we wanted to do was to play netball.” Her first big break came in 1993, when she was part of the Young Gems team that travelled to Malawi for the COSANA games. She caught the attention of the then Botswana national team and Notwane coach, Tabogo Kesupile. A few months later, Kesupile came calling, with Mlotshwa signing for the Botswana side.
Ironically, that is the same time that her first senior national team call-up came. In camp, she joined the likes of the current national team manager, Ledwin Dondo, the late Gladys Murisa, and many other legends of her time. By the time the 1995 All-Africa Games came, Mlotshwa had made captain, and she led Zimbabwe to a silver medal finish on home turf.
The journey to All-Africa Games started in 1994, and she spent half that year in camp preparing for both COSANA and the Games.
“As the host nation, our eyes were on the gold medal and I still get goosebumps just thinking about that opening ceremony. Tears rolled down my cheeks on the first day of competition, as we sang the national anthem and watched our flag being raised. I felt I had made it in life,” she said. She said the mental toughness, resilience, and discipline of that team is what she took with her to Botswana.
It helped her adjust.