The Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at UP is proud to boast with four winning Olympian women in its midst.
Phumelela Mbande, Olympic hockey player and flag bearer for South Africa, completed her Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting (CTA) in 2016. Her best memory of her studies in the Faculty of EMS was the CTA dinner.
“2016 was a pretty tough year, but for that one night I could pretend I wasn’t waiting on exam results and just have a blast with the people I had spent 90% of my year with.”
She started playing hockey in 2003, in her grade 5 year. “I’d never heard of the sport before, but I absolutely fell in love with it pretty quickly and I played throughout high school and varsity,” she says.
Participating in the Olympics was a completely surreal experience for her and an absolute dream come true. “A definite highlight was having the honour of carrying our flag at the opening ceremony. A huge wave of emotions went through me – honour, pride, excitement, complete disbelief. Being at the Games already felt like such a massive feat and aside from wanting to have the best tournament of my life, I really didn’t want anything more. So to find myself carrying our flag on stage? Crazy!”
Another highlight for Phumelela was getting her 50th cap at the Games, playing against world number 1, the Netherlands.
“Sport has been such a big part of my life for so long, and I’ve been afforded so many opportunities through it! I’ve seen how it has helped me navigate spaces, from social to professional environments, I am a better auditor because I’ve worked in teams my entire life. Sport teaches you resilience, it teaches you to fight for what you want – in action and in speaking up for yourself,” she adds
Phumelela believes participating in sport is important for women, because it’s just one more way in which we can prove that all a woman needs is opportunity, and a platform. “Caster Semenya, Tatijana Schoenmaker, Simone Biles, Allyson Felix all setting and breaking world records – their talent, their hard work and determination always made them world class, they just needed the platform to showcase that. We are capable. We are brilliant. Just let us be.”
In future, Phumelela would love to keep growing in the game of hockey, and cementing her place first in her team, then on the international stage. Next year is a big year on the hockey calendar, so there’s lots to work and preparation, she adds.
“I also intend on growing myself professionally, in audit. I’m currently a second-year manager in a leading audit firm, and there is a lot of opportunity for growth and learning within that space.”
Her advice to aspiring Olympians is that no dream is too big. “The journey is absolutely tough, it is filled with lots of highs and probably the worst lows you will experience, but it is so worth all the blood, sweat and tears! Dream it, work it, live it!”
Phumelela Mbande Photo credit: https://twitter.com/phumz_24
Onthatile Zulu is Phumelela’s hockey team mate and currently a third-year BCom Business Management student in UP’s Faculty of EMS. She enjoys group assignments the most as part of her studies, as it allows her to meet and work with different people.
The best Olympic experience for her was to step onto the field for her first game and being able to sing the national anthem loud and proud. “It is wonderful to be able to inspire others and hopefully encourage other women to be involved with sport.”
While sports can be challenging – both mentally and physically – it teaches you to persevere, Onthatile believes. “Don’t give up on your dreams if they seem too farfetched, it’s all part of the journey. You never know when your opportunity will come so give it your all at all times,” she says.
Her future plans are to finish her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at UP, and after that hopefully go play hockey in the Netherlands or Belgium.
Onthatile Zulu Photo credit: https://www.instagram.com/thxti_zulu
also did EMS proud. This honours in Internal Auditing student became only the third South African female judoka to compete at the Olympic Games. Similarly, the BCom Financial Sciences graduate Tatjana Schoenmaker
flew the EMS flag high by winning gold and setting a new women’s 200m-breaststroke world record at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott
Photo credit: Anton Geyser/South African Sports Images