Growing up in the Mohlakeng, Banyana Banyana and S.L Benfica player, Thembi Kgatlana (23) never dreamt that she would one day represent South Africa in a World Cup and get to play for one of the best teams in Portugal.
Kgatlana says she played football without any plans of making a career out of it; “I was still young and played sports like any other child”
She went from having no plans of elevating her career to scoring one of the most memorable goals in the history of Banyana Banyana when they locked horns with Spain during the 2019 Women’s FIFA World Cup.
Speaking of this goal, she says it will always be one of her significant memories.
“The goal has a special place in my heart, I still think about it today and get the same Goosebumps I got after the game. It motives me to work harder knowing anything is possible in life”
Kgatlana believes that the goal had an impact not only in her life but everyone in the Banyana team, because South Africa got recognised from then on for its talent and great female players.
For her prowess’s, Kgatlana has been recognised with the prestigious Women’s Player of The Year Award as well as the Goal of The Year at the 2018 CAF Awards.
“These awards represent who Thembi Kgatlana is, they are much more than awards in my eyes, they are a legacy to women in the country, and to every girl child in Africa who doesn’t believe it’s possible to be great, not only in sports but in life,” she added.
The award winning player believes that a lot can be done to improve women’s sports development in South Africa.
“There is a lot that is missing in women’s development sports in the country. But there are two things that stand out for me, professionalism and the ability to get money injected to these women. They work hard and, in some cases, get better results than their male counterparts. But what do they have financially to show? Nothing or little,” Kgatlana explained.
The Banyana player hosted her 1st annual tournament in December last year, which aims to invest in women’s football development in the country.
“It was my 1st annual women only tournament but the third tournament my foundation has hosted. For the longest time football has been known to be a men’s game, but through my successes – that thought changed. Women needed a platform to also show that they can play, that is why my Foundation focused solely on giving women that platform in the lower ranks,” she explained.
She also added that her aim was to open a stage for them, where national scouts were there to witness their greatness and power.
“We have a player that played in the tournament who got a Senior national call up to Banyana. This proves to be a success for Thembi Kgatlana Foundation to give women a platform to play. This is the kind of results that we want to see, to get more women to believe in themselves no matter their background and circumstances,” she added, excitedly.
Kgatlana has also played for Beijing BG Phoenix in China, she feels that being in China helped her grow as an athlete and as a person.
“Playing for Beijing BG Phoenix was another step towards reaching where I want to be. I chose to go to China, because I knew it would get me out of my comfort zone. I knew there were huge adjustments I had to make in everything. And to be honest the challenge was great and intense, but that made me stronger on and off the field,”
Her current team S.L Benfica beat CF Benfica in the semifinals to reach the finals of the Taca da Liga Final, where Kgatlana also scored a goal.
“Preparations are going well for the final. We used the previous week to manage injuries and niggles, since it was Fifa break. We also took some days off,” she added.
Kgatlana is grateful for her family and close friends who always help her to overcome pressure from people at times.
“Pressure will always be there, internal or external. My family and friends help me forget about the external pressure by always being there for me, through the good and bad times by giving me love and support,”
She believes that most pressure comes from within since she always works on becoming a better version of herself everyday.
“I wanna be better than the Thembi of yesterday, on and off the pitch. And that keeps me on my toes. I want to do or work on all the difficult things or things I dont like, because I know that tomorrow they will make me better no matter how tough they are,”
Kgatlana says she handles bad days on the field by praying and asking God to guide her.
“I’m a very religious person. And when I feel like things are not going my way in the moment. I pray about it, and feel better, then continue doing what I’m doing. But the thought that I’m glorifying God with my talent and what I’m doing in the moment supersedes everything,”
She says she has always looked up to Nompumelelo Nyandeni because she fought against all odds to make it as a football player.
“My favourite footballer is Nompumelelo Nyandeni, she has motivated me since I was a little girl in Mohlakeng. Her talent has touched me in so many ways. And I have always wanted to be like her, a young black woman from an underprivileged community in South Africa making it to the world,”
She says that she believes that every young girl can be successful. As long as they work hard and believe in themselves.
“My advice to young girls playing football, is to always be themselves. Know what they want, and that only hard work, determination and patience will get you there. Nothing else.” Kgatlana concluded.