There were plenty of appetisers in the three-match netball Test series that South Africa lost 2-1 to England at the Bellville Velodrome in Cape Town.
The world was given a glimpse of what the Mother City will offer when it hosts the 2023 INF Netball World Cup. And South Africa and England got a sense of what their futures hold, as both teams are in a transitional phase after fighting it out for the bronze medal at the World Cup in Liverpool, England.
But more importantly, English franchise Team Bath – coach Anna Stembridge as well as the rest of the club – got a chance to see what their latest addition, 23-year-old Khanyisa Chawane, has to offer. Chawane is one of the young players that Spar Proteas coach Dorette Badenhorst has in her team.
England and Bath should expect to see a Chawane who is quick on the wing and able to make important turnovers to supply to the attackers. Her move to a professional league came at the right time as her star continues to rise in the sport. She was named the Varsity Netball Player of the Tournament in 2018 and also scooped the Most Valuable Player award in the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League in the same year.
The geography student from the University of the Free State caught Stembridge’s eye during the Test series against Wales, just before the Netball World Cup in Liverpool. It was Chawane’s impressive performance at the global tournament that got Team Bath interested.
The five-time Vitality Netball Superleague champions seem to be a gateway for South African players to professional careers. Karla Pretorius, Lenize Potgieter and Zanele Vimbela all played in Somerset before moving to their current clubs. Pretorius and Potgieter now play in Australia’s premier Suncorp Super Netball league while Vimbela has made a return to the British Superleague with the Strathclyde Sirens in Glasgow, Scotland.
“I didn’t see it coming. It was just a dream for me. We played the World Cup in Liverpool, where the Spar Proteas really performed. We ended up being the talk of the whole World Cup. Coaches from other Superleagues had been watching to see who they would scout. I never really thought I would be one of those,” said Chawane.
The euphoria of surprising the world by beating Jamaica and finishing in the top four for the first time in 24 years was topped by an email she received from Bath after returning to South Africa.
“I didn’t even know who Anna Stembridge was. She actually saw me play in the Test series, but she didn’t want to approach me during the World Cup,” explained Chawane.
Chawane has already linked up with her team in England. But she will officially start her new competitive life in Somerset after the Vitality Netball Nations Cup in England in January, having signed a one-year contract with Team Bath. The Proteas, English Roses, Jamaica and New Zealand will face each other in the new competition.
Adapting to life as a young Protea
Chawane was able to fit in quite quickly with the senior team after former coach Norma Plummer invited her for trials. Although she had just buried her grandmother, Gavaza Bvuma, the day before reporting to camp, she was able to focus on the task at hand and cement her place in the team.
What’s more remarkable about how she thrived after her grandmother’s death was that Bvuma raised Chawane in Tzaneen, where she completed her basic education at Hoërskool Ben Vorster. This is where Kovsies coach, Berta de Kock, discovered her and made sure she moved to the Free State to play netball for the university. She was only in grade nine at the time, but De Kock was not going to give up on having this rough diamond in her team.
“I thought I was a star and I was going to get to Kovsies and be one of the greatest players. But when I got there, there was Karla, Lauren-Lee [Christians] and Tanya [Mostert]. There were all these big-name players and there was no way I could break into that system. But I am thankful that from my first year, I got to play with top players. I trained with people who were going somewhere and inspired me to work hard,” she said.
Chawane is celebrated in three provinces, being born in Mpumalanga, growing up in Limpopo and making her impact in netball in the Free State. But no one is prouder of her achievements than her father, Russell Chawane.
“He is over the moon ever since I made the national team. He has been telling me that he is famous now, everyone knows him and that I put him on the map. He’s become a big deal at home [in Bushbuckridge]. He is really happy and I am happy that I could do that for him. Having to give him a sense of pride after my mother died,” she said with a smile.
Calls for a professional league
The centre hopes that South Africa will have established a strong professional league to create a bigger pool of players before hosting the Netball World Cup in four years’ time, instead of only exporting players to other leagues. However, she would like to play continuous competitive netball in professional leagues should Netball South Africa not become successful in launching one.
“It actually goes two ways. Players playing overseas create a lot of depth in the [national] team,” Chawane said. “That’s why we were actually able to perform at the World Cup, because most of the players were exposed to that kind of intensity. That’s the depth we’re getting in the team, that we are able to compete at the same level with players from other countries.
“But if all the great players are leaving and we’re looking at the development of the game in South Africa, then the standard is going to drop. The players that are supposed to lift the standard and the players we are supposed to measure ourselves against are the ones leaving to other countries. It dents the chance of netball development in the country. It’s urgent and important [that we have a professional league] because it can bring back all the players that are playing overseas and create the depth that we need.”