Sarah Baartman District Academy opens world-class doors for athletes

Sarah Baartman District Academy
Sarah Baartman District Academy

By Matebello Motantsi, Honours in Journalism and Media Studies student


Late last month, dignitaries and representatives of the Makana municipality in partnership with the Department of Human Kinetics and Ergonomics (HKE) at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape Academy of Sport and the Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture (DSRAC) assembled in Joza, Grahamstown/Makhanda for the official opening of the Sarah Baartman District Academy for Sport.

The purpose of the academy is twofold; firstly, to promote the development of sporting talent in the Sarah Baartman District through the provision of high quality facilities, coaching and scientific expertise and secondly to promote participation in physical activity and healthy life-long participation in sport in our community. This great initiative, which aims to offer world class infrastructure, equipment and expertise to local athletes, is endorsed by DSRAC. The official opening was honoured by the Department’s Member of Executive Council, Bulelwa Tunyiswa, who ordained the use of the building and its facilities. “This academy is a cornerstone for athletes of the province,” she declared.

Tunyiswa, who has had a strong connection to sports throughout most of her life, explained that the academy will be used for identifying, supporting and developing athletes from poor backgrounds into world class performance levels.

The infrastructure consists of a newly built gym, an indoor sports centre and two adjacent fields. The gym is equipped with state-of-the-art functional and resistance training equipment which will provide athletes with a platform to enhance their performance through strength and conditioning. This is combined with the science expertise that will be rendered by the HKE students and staff, whose involvement in the project is to ensure that the athlete’s performance is optimised. This will be achieved through the integration of students into the Sarah Baartman Academy as part of an extensive service learning program. HKE honours students are responsible for working with the initial group of athletes, with undergraduate students being introduced into the academy in due course. This provides students with a vital platform to apply the knowledge that they have gained in the classroom while simultaneously providing a wonderful service to our athletes.

Andrew Todd, who is a senior lecturer and facilitator of this module, said this initiative is not simply meant to benefit Rhodes University. The department has been guided by Rhodes University Vice Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela’s four principles for institutions of higher learning: sustainability, local responsiveness, the advancement of social justice and the advancement of the public good purpose of universities. “This project is about being locally responsive and bolstering the social justice that is currently lacking in Makhanda - where the one side of town is booming with prestige and excellent services, while places like Joza and the rest of the township lag behind,” said Todd.

Much of the research in the department is based around building towards equity of opportunity for all sports men and women of the Sarah Baartman region through strong partnerships and collaborations focused on building of local capacity. The HKE department will now have a home at the Sarah Baartman District Academy, making it the first academic department at the University to have fulltime office space and facilities in Joza. Secondly, the magnitude and scope of the service learning course, with the multitude of stakeholders involved makes it one of the most ambitious and biggest on campus. Todd further added that the dedication, hard work and support of staff and students alike in the department had been instrumental in bringing this collaboration to fruition. Engaged research by PhD students, like Ben Ryan, with the support of a strong community engagement program lead by Dr Jono Davy has allowed the department to be in a position to respond effectively to the need for the provision of sports science services at the Sarah Baartman District Academy.

Third year HKE student Maria Praeg pointed to the severe water crisis that has hit the township area in Makhanda. “While there may be a lack of water and other basic necessities, I am hopeful of the fact that the community will benefit from the programmes and expertise brought by the HKE department, as these will assist athletes and the community at large to take care of their bodies and stay healthy amidst the scarcities,” she stated.

This was indeed a marvelous official opening to an equally marvelous facility. In uniform, the speakers urged prospective users of the facility and the community to avoid vandalism of any sort, and to take care of the new Sarah Baartman District Academy for Sport, because in doing so we keep the dreams of the district’s athletes alive.