November 2011

Nothing stands in the way of SAGDB's Bilitane

Thobani Bilitane with the SAGDB's development manager for Border Millie Zim

When you start your life in a squatter camp, has your destiny already been decided or can you rise above your circumstances or? For some, this may be the only life they'll ever know, but if your name is Thobani Bilitane, you know you are destined for better things.

The Duncan Village native might only be just 12 years old, but this promising golfer has already started tasting a better life thanks to the values he has learned through golf and he is determined to carve out a better life for himself and his family.

Bilitane believes meeting SAGDB Border coach Rickard Dikileyo was his destiny.

"We were playing soccer in the streets with a rag ball when Mr Dikileyo called us over and asked us if we knew what golf was and if we wanted to learn to play," he explains. "We started practicing at the soccer field here in the township and I just loved it straightaway. You play golf against yourself. You have to work hard to improve but only you can do that. You can't depend on anyone else."

The young gun proved to be a quick study and Dikileyo moved him to the driving range at East London Golf Club where he soon caught the eye of Border head coach Michelle de Vries.

"Thobani is such a hard worker," says De Vries, who now coaches the youngster and puts him through his paces every Monday.

"He has the talent to take the game to the ultimate level, he is very willing to learn and he is very determined. He will stand on the range for hours practicing. We literally have to chase him home."

In October, the Makinana Primary School learner's golfing prowess earned him a spot in the Border U-12 team that competed at the KeNako 2011 U-12 Teams Tournament at Kingswood Golf Estate. Bilitane calls this the greatest achievement of his short career.

"I only joined the SAGDB programme five years ago, so I never expected to be selected to a provincial team at this age," he says. "Things like this don't usually happen to people like me from the township. Thanks to the SAGDB, this big thing happened for me; without them I never would have had the chance to go. "We played against teams from Central Gauteng, Boland, Western Province, Eastern Province and SA Kids Golf. It was a dream come true. It was a great experience for me, to travel, to meet all the other kids and to play in the tournament."

Travelling thousands of miles to tee it up in a golf tournament is a daunting task for any regular 12-year old, let alone one who only knows the boundaries of Duncan Village, but this 18-handicap golfer from Alexandra Golf Club was so excited at the prospect, he packed days in advance.

"I was really well prepared for the trip," he explains. "The SAGDB took care of all the finances for me to make the trip and I practiced really hard in the days leading up to the tournament."

"I didn't do as well as I expected, but my coach reminded me that it was my first trip. There was a lot of stuff to get used to and next time I'll be even better prepared. I'll definitely do better next time."

"But it's not just about the win. Golf has taught me honesty, integrity, respect for myself and my peers; it has given me confidence and it has taught me to take responsibility. That's why I love golf."

Yet, although the youngster believes in his talent, he does not believe there is a professional career is in his future.

"I think I might become good enough but I don't think I'll become a professional golfer," he says. "Through the SAGDB I met Mr Dikileyo and Michelle, who have been wonderful teachers. They have taught me how to make life better for myself through hard work."

"I would like to become a teacher and I'd like to teach that to other children and to teach them to be thankful and humble. Then I can also look after my grandmother. She takes care of us, she works very hard to get us the things we need and she never complains."

Meanwhile, the hard work on the range continues to reap rewards.

Just a few weeks ago, Bilitane shot his lowest round - an 88 - at the Nomads Junior Championships at WestBank. So, one never knows, but with at least eight years before he has to make his final career choice, we could be watching Border's next SAGDB coach in the making.