Inspirational SA fencer Nomvula Mbatha travels to Cairo to chase Olympic dream

Soweto fencer, Nomvula Mbatha, as she tells the story of her renewed hope for her future in sports.
Soweto fencer, Nomvula Mbatha, as she tells the story of her renewed hope for her future in sports.
Image: Nomvula Mbatha

It was at a hotel parking lot in the middle of the coronavirus hard lockdown in South Africa in the beginning of last year when fencer Nomvula Mbatha realised how powerful her Olympic dream is, and how she will stop at nothing to achieve it.

At that parking lot, as her dreams of representing South Africa at the Tokyo Olympics took yet another unexpected turn – this time through a global pandemic – Mbatha made a decision she concedes made her both nervous and excited.

"I had to keep the dream going," she said.

"I’m excited but also nervous. I’d say I’m 25% excited and 75% nervous. I believe I will qualify."

Telecommunication giant Vodacom have committed to support Mbatha financially to travel to the Olympic zonal qualifiers in Cairo as well as with the coaching sessions she needs for her preparations, and the new attire she requires as standard international competition kit. The zonal qualifiers will be held April 18-24.

"I’m also just so grateful for the support from Vodacom. Since all the media exposure and their help, I’ve had so many people asking me about fencing and wanting to get involved. It’s also brought more exposure for the Soweto Fencing Club, and my teammates there are just as grateful for this."

The hard lockdown and the obstacles she’s had to overcome have given her greater perspective on how badly she wants to achieve the Olympic dream later this year.

"It was tough to deal with and I wasn’t happy about it when the lockdown happened and everything was postponed, but I decided to turn it into a positive," she said.

At the time of the hard lockdown last year, Mbatha was busy with her studies through the FIE (International Fencing Federation) to become a coach.

"I was based at the Sierra Hotel in Randburg. I was there with other fencers from Botswana, Kenya, Egypt and Mauritius. When the lockdown happened, the hotel was empty. So I said to them, we’re going to practice in the hotel parking lot.

"There are no cars so it’s perfect. We’ll fence against each other in the parking lot. I used the time to train harder and focus more on my studies," she said.

"We were up at 6:30am every morning, and by 7:00am we would go running. Then we’d come back and fence in the parking lot. After that we’d go back to our rooms to rest, and in the afternoon we’d go for a run again."

She completed her studies and is now, at the age of 23, the first black female fencing coach in South Africa. A career path in coaching is another part of her dream.

"The first part of my dream is to go to the qualifiers, win gold and make it to the Olympics," she said.

"And then I want to coach and get more women involved in fencing."

Mbatha’s journey is already an inspiration. While attending Ekuthuleni Combined School in Diepkloof Soweto, Mbatha discovered that she wasn’t good at netball and decided to try a new sport that had been introduced at the school. The sport was fencing.

Her parents were initially not convinced when they saw their daughter taking part in a rare sporting activity they deemed as "dangerous". The sport was not popular in the townships, but her determination and commitment were enough for them to eventually give her their blessing.

"When I told my parents I was doing fencing, they had no idea what I was talking about. Then they saw it and said it was too dangerous. But now they are comfortable with it.

"They are very proud of what I’ve achieved. But I was never a natural. I had to train harder than others. But I saw that the more training I did, the better my results. So that’s been my approach. To always be positive and train hard."​