For someone who started playing netball by chance, Bongiwe Msomi hasn’t done badly for herself. She has inspired a generation of future netball players, captained her country and earned professional contracts in Australia and England.
Msomi is a perfect example of how talent and hard work can take you far. What’s more remarkable is that she didn’t choose netball, the sport chose her. Going to watch her friends at netball practice was a pastime until she was asked to stand in when the team was short of a player during a training session. She was 16 years old at the time and had never played the sport.
But after that practice, coach Sthembiso Mncwabe knew he had a star on his hands. Msomi hasn’t looked back and netball has taken her places she never thought she’d go.
She couldn’t hold back the tears as she recalled how she felt when she saw the video of young girls telling her life story, of how she became one of South Africa’s top netball players. This video contributed towards winning over the International Netball Federation, who chose South Africa as the 2023 Netball World Cup hosts.
“I wasn’t expecting to see that video,” said Msomi, who watched the 2023 Netball World Cup bid announcement via former Spar Proteas captain Zanele Mdodana’s live feed on social media.
“It was so great to see that ,” she added, pausing to compose herself as tears rolled down her face. “That meant so much to me. Seeing those girls imitate Bongi, saying they want to be like me and that they want to be a Bongi. In my head, all I was thinking was that they will definitely be better than Bongi.”
Developing the next generation
The captain of the senior national team has already started working on developing upcoming players through her Bongiwe Msomi Netball Academy.
BM Netball was established last year after Msomi’s stint in the Suncorp Super Netball league in Australia, where she played for Adelaide Thunderbirds. She was inspired by former Samsung Diamonds player Erin Bell after she had invited the Hammarsdale-born player to share her story with a group of young netball players.
“People always asked me what is it that I wanted to achieve now that I had made it into the national team. I would tell them that I want to have a netball academy. I wanted to start an academy because I wanted to give back and have a platform where I could share my experiences. I want to get involved in getting players to play at a competitive level,” she explained.
While she inspires the next generation of Proteas, Msomi is entertaining thousands of netball fans in the United Kingdom. She first moved to the Vitality Super League in 2015 for Surrey Storm, with Wasps signing her after her superb performances for Surrey. After relocating to Coventry, Msomi won the league title with Wasps in 2017.
From Coventry to Adelaide and back
Msomi once again relocated after her success with Wasps, this time moving to Australia, home of the No. 1 ranked netball team. This ranking is not only because of the Diamonds’ prowess at an international level but also the stiff competition at club level. Msomi thought it would be best to test herself in Australia after winning the title with Wasps.
“Playing in Australia was on my bucket list and I know most girls want to play there, too. I am grateful I took the chance because I’ve learnt so much, especially off the court. I have grown and become confident.”
“I know now that just because I am from a township, it doesn’t mean I have to wait for other people to lead, because I can do that myself. Playing in Australia has been one of the highlights in my career,” she said.
Despite this, the United Kingdom has become her second home, which is why her decision to go back to Wasps was a no-brainer for her.
“Australia is able to fund their players better than other countries,” Msomi said. “Their league runs longer. Sometimes I wished that people around the world would see how competitive the league in the United Kingdom is. It’s growing and I think one day we will get there as South Africa.”
Lofty World Cup ambitions
Hosting the World Cup will go a long way towards helping the sport “get there as South Africa”. While South Africans are already anticipating the millions of people who will be hitting Cape Town for the 2023 Netball World Cup, the skipper is dreaming of a podium finish in this year’s competition in her home away from home, the UK.
South Africa, who qualified by being in the top six in the world, will be looking to better their 2015 World Cup finish at this year’s tournament in England, which runs from 12 to 21 July in Liverpool.
In the last World Cup, South Africa narrowly beat rivals Malawi 48-46 to take fifth place. After a spectacular showing at the Sanzea Quad Series, where they defeated hosts England and took New Zealand to extra time, Msomi is confident of a top four finish, maybe even coming home with a medal.
“We have seen a lot of things changing, things that are favouring us,” she said. “This is great. There’s been a lot of hard work [that has] been put in by the team and coach Norma [Plummer] and [assistant coach] Nicole [Cusack].
“I can’t tell you how hard they work with us. The Quad Series was amazing. At this stage, we are looking to get into the top four. Once we get into the semifinals, anything can happen. Obviously, we want to get a medal for the country, and that would be amazing if you think about the amount of work we have put in.”
Even though Msomi has led the team as captain since 2016, she understands that she still has to earn her place in the squad that will represent South Africa in Liverpool.
“I need to work hard for me to make the team for this year. I have never been guaranteed a place in the national team. It’s always based on performances. I need to raise my hand.”